Progradar- Reviews Round Up – Part 1

This article sees me delve into the plethora of new music that has come my way over the last couple of months. I have collated what I consider to be the best of the new releases, albums I would definitely recommend, please check them out and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Marius LeirånesLangtidsperspektiv

Music and geography are closely related. Places have their sounds, and sounds have their spaces. A lot has been said about the “Nordic sound”, whether it be jazz, progressive rock, electronica or extreme metal. We tend to think of isolation, melancholy, a certain kind of light, coldness, vast stretches of ice and rock.

Known from the Norwegian prog band Pixie Ninja, Marius goes back to his childhood home to deliver a sparse, awe inspiring collection of songs that speak of the beauty of darkness and light and the ever changing weather and sometimes brutal, but always beautiful, landscapes of his ancestral homeland.

Electronica, ambient and post rock and prog are all touched upon on this ghostly and sublime release. ‘Langtidsperspektiv’ takes you on a journey that ranges from the serene to the stormy, and from the tragic to the triumphant.

Released July 23rd, 2021.

Order from bandcamp here:

Langtidsperspektiv | Marius Leirånes (bandcamp.com)

The Helicopter of The Holy Ghost – Afters

The Helicopter Of The Holy Ghost are Mark Morriss (The Bluetones), Billy Reeves (theaudience), Crayola Lectern (Lost Horizons/Departure Lounge) and Mark Peters (Engineers). The original concept for the material was probably formed while Billy was signed to Sony, which at that time, pointed toward a more commercial sound, however Crayola Lectern’s involvement on piano help send the recordings into a more ‘Canterbury’ direction, taking influence from Caravan, Robert Wyatt and the like.

Featuring a guest line-up including Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins, Dale Davis from Amy Winehouse’s band, Andy Lewis from Paul Weller’s group, Smiley from Joe Strummer’s Mescalaros and Thomas Anderson of fellow Kscope signees Gazpacho, the wide-ranging influence herein is evident throughout a very sweet, gentle, calming album of originality and versatility.

The music is low key, bitter sweet beautiful and, above all, has a calming grace imbued by the elegant vocals. The sound seems to just wash over you in a soothing and serene manner and take me back to nostalgic and wistful summers days of years gone past. On of the highlights is the graceful piano playing which perfectly matches the exquisitely world weary vocals.

As the promo material says, “What are these songs about? No-one knows. They are, however, very pretty.”

Released 13th August, 2021.

Order from Burning Shed here:

Afters (burningshed.com)

Giancarlo Erra – Departure Tapes

Departure Tapes is an album consisting of 6 contemplative recordings, written while travelling between the UK and Italy. The majority of these 6 tracks were improvised in the studio by Erra, so for the most part, are totally unique and hold a sincerity which cannot be replicated. It is the follow up to 2019’s acclaimed album Ends I-VII, with the new recordings reflecting what, has been an extremely difficult year for Giancarlo, with the loss of his father to cancer. Erra comments “In 2019 my first solo album was just being released, and I already had the view that I wanted to be more experimental with the second one, but no precise idea how at that point. Then my father suddenly got ill with cancer, and everything changed.”

An expert in knowing how not to fill the empty spaces, Giancarlo has written an instrumental album that speaks of the pain of being distanced from a relative and the simple beauty of a reconciliation. It is a sombre and thought provoking release and feels like a dedication to the father who he knew little of and yet cared for at the end of his life.

If music could tell a story of a life lived, lost and, deep at its core, loved then ‘Departure Tapes’ is it. I am along term fan of this intelligent musician’s brilliant work and this new release is another entry into his very impressive discography, I’ll leave the final words to the man himself,

It’s the first album I have created without realising I was actually writing it, as it is so intrinsically linked to one of the hardest and yet more healing parts of my life. The end result is the most experimental, and at the times, the darkest material I have ever written, without compromise or set plan. It contains all the elements of my music in a very unconscious free flowing way.

Released 2nd July, 2021.

Order from Burning Shed here:

Departure Tapes (burningshed.com)

The Neal Morse Band – Innocence & Danger

With NMB’s previous two releases being concept albums, it’s perhaps remarkable that ‘Innocence & Danger’ is a series of unrelated songs, but drummer Mike Portnoy says “After two sprawling back to back double concept albums in a row, it was refreshing to get back to writing a collection of unrelated individual songs in the vein of our first album.”

There is also plenty in ‘Innocence & Danger’ to excite those prog fans who have a thirst for epics, as Neal Morse explains: “There’s one half hour epic and another that’s about 20 minutes long. I really didn’t realise that they were that long when we were recording them, which I guess is great because if a movie is really good, you don’t realise that it’s three hours long! But there are also some shorter songs: some have poppier elements, some are heavier and some have three part acoustic sections. I’m excited about all of it, really.”

This album encapsulates everything that is good about Neal Morse and The Neal Morse Band, powerful, dynamic and with more than a dose of pomp and circumstance. The opening two tracks on Disc 1 are worth the price of admission on their own, majestic driving, hard rock songs with serious progressive leanings and a group of musicians who definitely know the score, the keyboard and guitar interplay on Bird On A Wire is just brilliant.

Then you get what every prog fan loves, the Neal Morse-penned prog epic and, in Beyond The Years, it is bound to become a classic. Not Afraid Parts 1&2, a cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water that just stays the right side of cheesy, you get just about everything you’d want from Neal and the boys, that man can really (and i mean REALLY) write a fantastic tune!

Released 27th August 2021.

Order from Burning Shed here:

Innocence & Danger (burningshed.com)

smalltape – The Hungry Heart

Smalltape is the project of the Berlin multi-instrumentalist Philipp Nespital, who basically does everything on the album, just about and he is one seriously talented individual. Intelligent, thought provoking and, above all, hauntingly beautiful music that, despite bringing to mind the likes of Echolyn, Radiohead, Steven Wilson and the like, has its own distinct identity.

The stunning album artwork is amazing in itself but venture deep into this collection of ten superb tracks set across two CDs and you will be ultimately rewarded with one of this year’s stand out releases. Cerebral and erudite throughout, the perceptive songwriting marries with Philipp’s creative brilliance to deliver a mind opening musical experience like no other.

I’m a massive fan of music that makes me think, music that doesn’t give up its deepest delights easily and ‘The Hungry Heart’ has that in spades. Hunger, Burning House, Dissolution, the list goes on, cuts of pure musical brilliance that showcase this young German musician as a seriously precocious talent and one to follow closely.

Released 16th July 2021.

Order from bandcamp here:

The Hungry Heart | smalltape (bandcamp.com)

Geoff Proudley is an English composer and keyboard player. He writes mainly for media but has had a number of flirtations with progressive rock over the years. Some with long memories may even recall his involvement with progressive outfit Coltsfoot in the mid-eighties.

Recent activity has seen Geoff return to writing and recording more progressive music. His solo EP ‘Quark’ surfaced in 2019 and 2020 saw a lot of writing, especially during lockdown. Those writing and recording sessions have produced two albums, the first of which is Tales From Strange Travels. Tales is an instrumental album. ‘It’s loosely conceptual. It’s about a journey. A fantastic journey but I like to leave it to the listener to paint their own pictures of what’s happening. Different people will interpret it in different ways and that’s great. Like in a book, we imagine what characters look like and the detail in our mind. It’s subjective and personal. Sometimes being too graphic can destroy that image.’

Geoff reached out to me a while ago but lockdown got in the way and it is only recently that I have been able to get to hear Geoff’s musical opus. I have to admit that I was smitten from the first note, it reminds me of a cross between the capes and mellotron prog excesses of the 70’s, the sci-fi shows of the same era, like Space 1999 and the ilk and those great electronica bands of the era like Kraftwerk. The keyboards flow elegantly and allow the listener’s mind to take them on a fantastical journey with occasional prompts and subliminal suggestions from the well constructed tracks.

It’s got too much intelligence to be considered psychedelic or spaced out like early Pink Floyd but it definitely cannot be considered mainstream either. Imagine your physics teacher having a penchant for some heavily progressive influenced progressive rock and a liking for Stanley Kubrick and you’d be on the right track.

Released 21st September 2021.

Order direct from the artist here:

CD Album – Tales From Strange Travels | gmp-music-production (geoffproudley.co.uk)

“We often start naive and green and either blossom into something remarkable, or we fizzle out – resigning to the life that we feared all along; the one we’ve been resisting – an uncertain path, a repetitive/menial existence, and the promise of a life without limitations. How far are you willing to go to either abandon or protect the way of life that you’ve been leading?”

These words paint the scene for the first act of alternative progressive rock quartet Head with Wings’ next chapter.

Amidst sweeping changes felt on a global scale, aspirations were put on hold, radiant futures dimmed, lives ended prematurely, and dreams were left to rot on the vine. For so many, the struggle was a silent one – a daily war waged alone.

On their forthcoming EP, ‘Comfort In Illusion’, Head with Wings draws the listener into the isolated, agonizing, and momentarily euphoric struggle for self-actualization amidst the stifling frame of an increasingly unfamiliar world. 

The collective’s first output since 2018’s critically-acclaimed debut, ‘From Worry to Shame,’ presents a concise summation of the group’s collective growth as artists and individuals. ‘Comfort in Illusion’ dives deeper into the quartet’s textural and emotive sound exploration with a timely personal narrative of self-discovery and the anxiety of change.

One of the most intriguing bands in the modern age of progressive rock, Head with Wings are masterful storytellers and immaculate musicians and any new release of theirs is a noteworthy event.

The three tracks on this EP have a depth of emotion and layers of sophistication that I have come to expect from this group of talented, young musicians. The music draws you into their intricate storytelling and every note has a widescreen feel to it, making the experience somewhat cinematic and always impassioned.

The poignant, almost melancholic mood that pervades the EP gives and intelligent and thoughtful feel and shows that the band understand that, even if the volume does go up to 11, you don’t always need to turn it up full.

Comfort in Illusion’ shows us that, when you have an incredible emotive depth to your music, less is most definitely more, Head with Wings still span epochs in terms of style, sound and substance and get better with every release.

Released 16th July, 2021.

Order from bandcamp here:

▶︎ Comfort in Illusion | Head with Wings (bandcamp.com)

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