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)

GIANCARLO ERRA RELEASES NEW SINGLE & VIDEO “PREVIOUS TAPE”

Taken from the forthcoming new album Departure Tapes released on Kscope on 2nd July 2021

With his new album Departure Tapes released this Friday, 2nd July, on Kscope,, UK based Italian composer, multi-instrumentalist and visual artist Giancarlo Erra has revealed the 3rd single and video for ‘Previous Tape’. He comments,

“Whatever music I write, whether for a soundtrack or for a rock band, for me, song writing and melody are always something that must be there (I grew up listening to Beatles so I can’t escape that!). At the same time I’m not a big fan of solos, but I’m obsessed with vocals, even if synthesised. I own a couple of synths dedicated almost exclusively to that.

So on Previous Tape, I used a Seaboard (keyboard/synth) because it allows me to play instruments and sounds without quantised pitch, like a vocal (or a theremin), while at the same time with a dynamically controlled expression of other parameters, exactly like I would while I sing.”

The new studio album Departure Tapes, the follow up to 2019’s Ends I-VII, consists of 6 contemplative recordings, written while travelling between the UK and Italy and reflect the extremely difficult year Giancarlo experienced due to the death of his estranged father. 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. I found myself taking care of this man, someone who I have been distanced from for so long.  During this time both of us to came to terms with many things. I wanted to get closure, but a positive one, for him and for me. 

Creatively it was an interesting period for me – writing this album 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. “

Departure Tapes sees Erra using a wide mix of analogue synths and digital plugins though he is keen to highlight the unsung hero of many of his albums, 

‘The 1979 monophonic Korg MS10, deserves a mention because this synth has a wicked filter, a squelching and screaming one that can really do some unique stuff once you use it with the modular part of the synth. In Departure Tapes and in possibly all of my albums, any bass synth part is performed on the MS10, and I believe is the one sound I use it for most of the times. Once you manually tune down the synth and then you tune and move the filter at resonant peak around the notes you need, this thing is able to make not just walls shaking bass sounds, but also ones that contain enough upper medium frequencies to cut through the mix: I would be lost without this little gem.’

Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm and the more electronic / ambient recordings of Brian Eno may offer a reference point by which to enter Erra’s world, but the depth within his recordings is truly original.

Departure Tapes will be released on the following formats and is available to pre-order HERE (https://GiancarloErra.lnk.to/DepartureTapes)

– a gatefold LP on oxblood coloured 180g vinyl

–  2-disc CD/DVD with the DVD-A/V including high resolution stereo & 5.1 mix:

DVD-V: stereo 24/48 LPCM lossless mixes, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, DTS 96/24 5.1 Surround and DVD-A: 5.1 Surround 24/48 LPCM lossless mixes 

– Digitally (with digital pre-orders receiving the single “Departure Tape” as an instant download)

GIANCARLO ERRA RELEASES NEW SINGLE & VIDEO “A BLUES FOR MY FATHER”

Taken from the forthcoming new album Departure Tapes released on Kscope on 2nd July 2021

Having announced his new album Departure Tapes and released the first single “Departure Tape”,  UK based Italian composer, multi-instrumentalist and visual artist Giancarlo Erra has revealed his next single and video, the moving and poignantly titled “A Blues For My Father”.

Giancarlo explains the song’s touching significance “After my father’s passing, the mourning brought back the curiosity to go re-look at all the material I wrote during the previous months and I realised I had an album that made a lot of sense. It was dark, experimental for me, confusing but also a discovery, it was a mirror in music of what I was going through. Something was missing, ‘ A Blues For My Father”  the only track that I wrote once back home, and the mournful yet peaceful closure”. 

The deeply personal video he recalls came about after a visit to his father in hospital  “on this particular visit he seemed unusually happy and excited to show me a DVD”, he recalls  “The footage was from the 1950’s and of his family and childhood, sadly his memory was failing at this point but once we started watching these moments came back to him, the people and the places, he was laughing and genuinely happy. I love this footage as it shows my father with his siblings and is the perfect mirror for the peaceful and warm meaning of this closure, a closure to an album and to many other things.”

The new studio album Departure Tapes, the follow up to 2019’s Ends I-VII, consists of 6 contemplative recordings, written while travelling between the UK and Italy and reflect the extremely difficult year Giancarlo experienced due to the death of his estranged father. 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. I found myself taking care of this man, someone who I have been distanced from for so long.  During this time both of us to came to terms with many things. I wanted to get closure, but a positive one, for him and for me. 

Creativity it was an interesting period for me – writing this album 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. “

Departure Tapes sees Erra play and record every instrument himself along with taking on full production responsibilities at his own studio (https://widescreen.studio). 

Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm and the more electronic / ambient recordings of Brian Eno may offer a reference point by which to enter Erra’s world, but the depth within his recordings is truly original.

Departure Tapes will be released on the following formats and is available to pre-order HERE (https://GiancarloErra.lnk.to/DepartureTapes)

·       a gatefold LP on oxblood coloured 180g vinyl

·       2-disc CD/DVD with the DVD-A/V including high resolution stereo & 5.1 mix:DVD-V: stereo 24/48 LPCM lossless mixes, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, DTS 96/24 5.1 Surround and DVD-A: 5.1 Surround 24/48 LPCM lossless mixes

·       Digitally (with digital pre-orders receiving the single “Departure Tape” as an instant download)

GIANCARLO ERRA RETURNS WITH SPELLBINDING NEW ALBUM DEPARTURE TAPES

TO BE RELEASED ON KSCOPE ON 2ND JULY 2021

First single & video for track “Departure Tape” premiered 

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.”

Erra, having had a fractured and conflicted relationship with his father since his early teenage years found a way to turn this distressing time into a cathartic experience, “he left when I was 14 and since then he wasn’t really part of my life. Then I received the news of his terminal illness and somehow, I found myself in a situation where I was taking care of this man, someone who I have been distanced from for so long.  During this period, I realised it had become a time for both of us to come to terms with many things. I wanted to get closure, but a positive one, for him and for me, and I think he was the same even though he maybe didn’t know it; this was hard but at the same time ‘healing’ and in a painful twist, it was possibly the most close and positive few months I had with him since I was a small child.” He explains the influence this had on him creatively“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. 

Watch the video for Departure Tape here:

The first single to be taken from the new album is the extremely poignant and personal “Departure Tape” with the video dedicated to Erra’s father, he explains “This track was written I think when I came back from my first visit to Italy to see my father after he had been diagnosed. It really just began as a live experiment – born and finished within one afternoon. I remember I didn’t really want to do anything; I was exhausted and down, but then, when I started playing the track took shape. I discovered there was much more going on inside my head that needed to be faced. For me, music has been always the only way I can do that, and from this introspection ‘Departure Tape’ was born. It’s almost as a free subconscious stream of thoughts and feelings while recording everything that was happening.”

Giancarlo Erra began his musical career in 2005 with one man studio project Nosound. 2008 saw him signing with Kscope and released a string of albums under the Nosound banner before recording his debut solo ‘Ends I-VII’. Departure Tapes sees Erra play and record every instrument himself along with taking on full production responsibilities at his own studio (https://widescreen.studio). 

Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm and the more electronic / ambient recordings of Brian Eno may offer a reference point by which to enter Erra’s world, but the depth within his recordings is truly original.

Departure Tapes tracklisting  

1. Dawn Tape [06:15] 

2. Previous Tape [01:48] 

3. 169th Tape [02:51] 

4. Unwound Tape [08:24] 

5. Departure Tape [16:51] 

6. A Blues For My Father [07:31] 

Departure Tapes will be released on the following formats and is available to pre-order HERE (https://GiancarloErra.lnk.to/DepartureTapes)

·       a gatefold LP on oxblood coloured 180g vinyl

·       2-disc CD/DVD with the DVD-A/V including high resolution stereo & 5.1 mix:DVD-V: stereo 24/48 LPCM lossless mixes, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, DTS 96/24 5.1 Surround and DVD-A: 5.1 Surround 24/48 LPCM lossless mixes

·       Digitally (with digital pre-orders receiving the single “Departure Tape” as an instant download from 22nd April)

(photography by Caroline Traitler)