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Category Archives: Prog

Marillion – Sounds That Can’t Be Made

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Genre: Art-Rock, Post-Progressive


Ah, here we go.

Look, i’m sorry, especially if Steve Hogarth is reading this, but we haven’t spoken about Marillion here yet and there’s something wholly unimportant that has to be said.

Mention the name Marillion to most music fans (that is, outwith their own obsessive circle of stalkers who care about Marillion and Marillion only) and you’ll be greeted with cries of disdain – cries of anguish aimed at a completely separate band.

So here’s the deal:

Modern-day Marillion sound like a, quite exceptionally, awesome combination of Pink Floyd and U2. Not to mention taking more than a little influence from their K-Scope peers (Porcupine Tree, Anathema, Engineers etc etc). Their long-haired oh-my-fucking-god-he-has-a-gorgeous-voice singer, Steve Hogarth, has, as you can guess, one of the most beautiful voices in Britain. Marillion have it easy; you KNOW that you’re a good band when another band (Gazpacho) steals your entire sound. Oh, and also when they name their band after one of your songs. But I like Gazpacho, I just happen to like Marillion more.

And that Marillion, that post-2004 band, the band who created the delicately soaring album Marbles, is the band that should be the popular one to music fans.

Unfortunately, there’s a dark side here.

You know it. I know it.

We all know what’s happening here and no one can stop this.

I don’t even want to mention it. But we have to.

Urgh.

Kayleigh.

Fish.

The band who took prog rock and almost ruined it. The band who did everything wrong; I mean, think of all the things that are bad about prog, just think, and I can guarantee it appears on Misplaced Childhood. The effeminate synths and strings that make you want to tear your ears off and throw them at the keyboardist. The attempts to fit 20 lyrics in a single line, because, hey, prog rock is about a “story”. Some of the worst album covers since the beginning of time (until Manowar arrived). Overblown, bombastic, attention-seeking widdly wankery. Dream Theater, in general. Neal Morse and Spock’s Beard, in general. Shitty “modern prog” bands like Touchstone, The Reasoning, Bigelf, Karnataka, Beardfish, Frost* and The Tangent, in general. Those kind of bands where every song comes in different “sections” because they can’t write proper, cohesive ones.

Fish-era Marillion are responsible for all of this.

I don’t care if that’s not even the truth: FISH-ERA MARILLION ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR WORLD HUNGER, WORLD POVERTY AND ALSO 9/11.

So thank everyone for giving us Steve Hogarth. Bless the flowers, bless the sun, bless the children for taking it all away. The Steve Hogarth Band (as Marillion should be known) have only released 3 albums since 2004, but every single one has been album-of-the-year material. Marbles was 1hr 40mins in length and very nearly suffered for it, but it didn’t, and it had one of the best songs of the decade: Neverland. Somewhere Else was 50 minutes, strong and all the better for it, and Happiness Is The Road was 2 albums in one.

So, do you see what i’m hinting at here? These albums are too long to be classics that you want to play daily; their sheer length means you can only accomplish them once a week. Listen, Marillion have definitely found their niche with their zealous fanbase who ask for more, more, more, but stuffing so much material into albums and releasing four hundred million live records a year is suffocating. There was a reason a vinyl could/can only accommodate 20 minutes per side before it degrades.

Anyway, let’s take a look at Sounds That Can’t Be Made, which i’m going to spoil the review with already and say that it’s nearly as good as Marbles, and it shares many similarities. But, look. Just look. The first track is 17 minutes long. There are 3 tracks over 10 minutes. The entire album is 74 minutes long. Whose idea was this? In what universe is an album this long ever going to be a good idea!?

Normally, I like to have heard a record at least 10 times before I give my opinion. But, fuck, fuck. Fuck, forgive me.

Forgive me for only having heard Sounds That Can’t Be Made four times.

That is 5 hours listening to this album.

Nonetheless, some of it is really quite good. It’s exactly what you would expect, which i’m not sure is an entirely positive thing. There’s not a lot of new things brought to the table here (except in Gaza, which we’ll get to in a second), and some of it sounds exactly like Marbles, but if you know and like this band already then you’ll be happy and probably have Sounds That Can’t Be Made down for one of the best albums of 2012 before you’ve even heard it. This record is Marillion doing what Marillion do best: long, drawn-out epic ambient-pop-romance-rock with Hogarth’s voice taking the pilot’s seat for most of the journey.

The opener, Gaza, is just utterly, amazingly, and absolutely fantastic. It’s also fucking heavy. Dear lord, it is the heaviest thing this band have ever done. Infact, parts of it could have been placed on Steven Wilson’s Grace For Drowning (listen to that orgasmic part at 4:12 in the video at the bottom, it sounds like the world is collapsing and it’s doing that by punching Remainder The Black Dog over and over.) If you took the excellent Marbles track Drilling Holes and made it 17 minutes long, and then you put it in the oven to heat up, this song is what it would sound like. BUT, these heavy parts are too short. They’re dropped out in favour of ambience and keyboard doodlings. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, we’re not asking for metal riffs here (the bottom tier of music, a complete lack of emotion everywhere) and we do get to hear more of that voice. But, with the latest news that our lives will have no new Porcupine Tree releases for at least 5 years, I feel completely teased and disappointed that, just as soon as these very-Deadwing parts have appeared, they’re ripped straight from me – like taking a girl home only to find she has a penis. For now, I love this track. But I think after 20 plays i’ll either be falling asleep or needing new underwear. We’ll see.

Sounds That Can’t Be Made has one of the best coda/outros i’ve heard since Happiness Is The Road (these are the best parts of Marillion songs, by the way, when everyone just decides screw it, we’ll ad lib for 4 minutes). Plus, extra marks for mentioning Aurora Borealis. Power and Invisible Ink are reasonably standard, Marbles affairs. The Sky Above The Rain walks a tight line between beautiful ballad and X Factor-finalist winning song, complete with falling confetti, fireworks and a choir of fat people walking on stage at just the right moment to bring it all back home, baby.

And then it all gets ruined.

Just as you’re accepting that, hey, I could sit here all night and listen to this… that’s when your grandfather walks into the room naked and everything good in the world disappears and Pour My Love appears.

The track title alone should make it all obvious. I wasn’t aware that “love” was a new brand of Coca Cola, capable of being poured.

Pour My Love is the weakest track here. A sappy, eye-rolling keyboard-driven plodder with a chorus that would fit on any Dad Rock compilation. I don’t understand why bands write these kind of songs. If you’re gonna take 4 years to carefully construct new songs, then how do you end up with… with this?

Lucky Man, thankfully, is a far better song. Despite being lyrically like listening to a drunk dad telling the kids how much he loves their mum (hey, don’t worry, I turn into a soppy romanticist when writing for the girl I like too). The song itself is worthy of playing on repeat. Just that ring-modulated guitar, man. That shit is great. “Some of us pay for absolution, some want sex and call it love, the freedom to cheat is not something i need tonight”. Ehhhhhhhh. Well, at least it’s better than “DRAGONS AND FAERIES ARE EVIL TO LADIES”

Overall, Sounds That Can’t Be Made is a very good record, but only if you have time to dedicate to it, and time to sit down and listen to it. Once the release-hype fades, I imagine it may stand up next to the best Hogarth work. Track-by-track, these songs stand high in the Marillion catalogue; somewhere amongst the mammoth length is something colossal.

For now, it’s almost too much to ingest in one sitting.

But this record is worth getting just for Gaza alone. I suggest you do just that and support the real Marillion.

For fans of: Marillion, Gazpacho

Released 17th September

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Syd Arthur – On An On

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Genre: Art Rock, Canterbury, Psychedelic, Jazz-Fusion


It’s a sign of a good band when they can’t possibly be described in one sentence. And, believe me, this is good.

Infact, trying to force Syd Arthur into an insufferable pit of classification is a reasonably challenging and fun game to play. Though I wouldn’t bother if I were you, because this, I guarantee, is near-unbeatable:

An organic, rootsy Tame Impala hitch a ride with The Meters to go see White Denim play in a field in the countryside, where Caravan are discussing their favourite Phish shows and Tomorrow Never Knows is playing in the background.

But there’s one very bright influence, glistening through the rest like a volcanic sun. Canterbury Prog.

It’s so unfair to pigeonhole a band as young as Syd Arthur into a scene they were never part of. It’s also lazy and frustratingly ill-researched to say that they’re merely a resurrection of Soft Machine (which many mainstream reviews have fallen into the trap of doing already.) But to understand the music this band are making, it’s probably best to also understand the music produced in the history of their hometown.

Circa ’67-’78, the Canterbury scene wasn’t so much a genre as it was an entire decade of crazy musicianship, over indulgence and schoolboy humour, all condensed into 40 minute vinyl treasure chests. The tiny quantity of musicians involved could be easily counted on both hands, but the amount of outstanding albums made from that select few would need multiple mutated octopus fingers to tally. Some were indebted to the liberated exploration of free-form jazz being released by Impulse Records in the 60s; Matching Mole, Hatfield & The North’s eponymous debut, Soft Machine’s Three, Henry Cow’s LegEnd. Others to the rise of psychedelia: Kevin Ayers’ Shooting At The Moon, Gong’s Camembert Electrique, Khan’s Space Shanty. It goes on.

Of course, none of these bands sounded much like each other, and to call a band “Canterbury” confirms only two things: a no boundaries attitude and a rare authenticity of overwhelming English-ness. Similarly, to attempt to describe the wonderful music from Syd Arthur’s On & On is also to dishearten it (let alone compare it to an outdated – though brilliant – entry to the history of music). Can you really compare a modern band to a “scene”, not a genre, which faded without trace once punk music took over and all but mutilated and disembowled the art of musicianship?

This is where Syd Arthur fit into being, completely unfortunately, wrongly categorized as a Canterbury band. They are, by all accounts, reminiscent of some of the music produced, certainly, but mostly they’re just a lethal combination of prog, jazz, psychedelic and folk music.

The name itself should tell a lot of the nature of the band, Siddhartha being the protagonist in Hermann Hesse’s spiritual novel set during the time of Buddha. Or maybe it’s the Syd, matching Syd Barrett. Or King Arthur, the man who alone defines the word “English.” But don’t fear if the thought of 20 minute keytar solos and silver capes scares you, no, On An On is a modern album. It’s deliciously retro, indeed, but its feet are planted firmly in the present in the way that, say, Sleepy Sun are. The sweeping string arrangements, the fuzzed-out guitar, the woody mandolin, the time signatures changing without warning. It’s as close to perfect as modern progressive music can get. To add anything would be to detract from what is such a mature vision beyond their youthful years.

The three standouts here serve the purpose as highlights only for the sake of having highlights, for the whole record is immaculate, and, to quote Almost Famous, incendiary. Incendiary. Dorothy is a dreamy, jazz-fueled haze; a recollection of sleepy, 2am moonlights and breathy sunrises. Eye-popping instrumental Night Shaped Light is three and a half minutes of psychedelic bliss. Ode To The Summer possesses a monster Funkadelic-like verse riff that makes dancing in 9/8 possible. Vocalist/guitarist Liam Magill has a soothing, effortless voice, comforting like Nick Drake, but restrained like Brendan Benson in a way that lets the band take the praise together (and there is a slight resemblance of Benson’s solo music outside The Raconteurs on the choruses of On An On). It’s not Robert Plant fronting Syd Arthur, but it works in much the same way that Tame Impala does; using the voice as a texture.

It also doesn’t hurt that they’re all stupidly accomplished musicians. Even the weakest track here, the disjointed and almost-awful Truth Seeker, is glued together by guitar chops more tasteful than a Mars Bar.

In terms of the UK, there’s enough here to satisfy both the Glastonbury crowd (that is, the mainstream magazines and indie festival-goers) and also appeal to the passionate, anti-cool prog fans who would otherwise be turned off by what is, ultimately, pop music.

But it’s thinking man’s pop music. Warped pop music. It’s technical, it’s savvy, it’s adventurous. And that’s why it’s so good.

It’s gorgeous.

Grab your sativa, On An On is mindblowing.

For fans of: Music. Everything.
Recommended Track: Dorothy

Released 3rd July