Jorge Luis Borges. If you’ve never heard of him, I suggest you go look him up. If you’re a prog musician looking for amazing source material for a concept, look no further. Borges = prog. Anyone watch Inception? Even if Nolan hadn’t made it absolutely clear, it’s impossible to miss the fact that it’s got Borges written all over it. Plunging deep into wacky pseudo-philosophical narratives, kabbalistic adventures, and mind spinning metaphysical games, Borges, for me, embodies what it is that us progger’s love: taking deep, cosmic, and even pretentious ideas and executing them through an ambitious version of a popular form, aka, rock music. Besides the fact that Rick Miller’s album Dark Dreams (which is reviewed below) contains Borges references (Uqbar), I wouldn’t necessarily say that this particular set of prog albums is necessary the best example of what I’m talking about, but whatever. Just go out and read some Borges and listen to prog. I suggest starting with “The Garden of Forking Paths.” Or if you want to combine Borges and prog in one single product, check out Carla Kihlstedt’s (of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum fame) Necessary Monsters.
A Lonely Crowd – User Hostile
User Hostile, the debut album from Australia’s A Lonely Crowd, really caught me by surprise. In the first place, it took me a few tracks to get a bird’s eye view of what is really going on here. The instrumentation is simple; basically what you get is guitar, bass, drums, vocals, and flute. Expect female vocals meeting classic heavy prog and clashing with modern alternative. I’m not quite sure why, but my mind keeps conjuring up is kind of a cool combination between De De Lind’s classic album “Io Non So Da Dove Vengo…” and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. You’ll probably listen to it and be like, “yeah, it didn’t sound like that at all.” At any rate, check it out: the vocals are gorgeous, the flute is nostalgic, the composition is fun, and there’s even some neat drumming!
Galahad – Battle Scars
British neo-prog veterans Galahad’s latest album, Battle Scars, did not disappoint me in the least bit. Battle Scars is an album that from the first moments is full of melodic atmosphere, rocking vibes, and great hooks. For prog this is definitely on the catchy side, but in a good way. The vocal melodies are memorable, but perhaps what most grabs me about this release is how it sounds both incredibly modern while still sounding very neo-prog. Lots of heavy guitars, crisp production, and fantastic inclusion of less conventional elements (for prog), such as loads of electronic music influences. Ultimately, this album is all about ‘songs.’ Don’t expect some majestically deep ocean of sonic waters or on this one. But, DO expect a great album, one that you can rock out to, and for the musicians, one that’s really fun to jam along to as well!
Rick Miller – Dark Dreams
Two things should immediately catch your attention about Rick Miller’s latest album, Dark Dreams. First, the really cool cover. I don’t know what it is about this cover, I think somehow it kind of reminds me of watching The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe cartoon from when I was a kid; kind of a psychologically destroyed post-apocalyptic version of Aslan on the stone-table. But seriously, what really got me excited was Miller’s references to Jorge Luis Borges, again! He’s already paid plenty of tribute to Borges in the past with his album Dreamtigers and various Borges themed song titles, and what we get here is a fantastic opening track, “Return to Uqbar,” which pays homage to the master of short story. Dark Dreams is a very relaxing and mostly satisfying album. I would describe it as symphonic prog with a strong new age vibe. The sound of the album is very thick and atmospheric. It is calming, but at the same time I feel like buried under much of the music is a certain level of distress or anxiety which keeps the album interesting. My only complaint about the record, overall, is that it seems to have its ups and downs as far as the compositions go. Some tracks are really fantastic, while others seemed to put me to sleep. Definitely an album worth checking out, especially if you’re into Borges and Pink Floyd!
Macroscream – Sisyphus
Here’s the review were I prove to everyone that just because a prog band comes from Italy, it doesn’t mean that I like them. Despite the really cool violin work of Gianpaolo Saracino on Sisyphus, I really couldn’t get into the album. The opening title track, while epic in scope, started me off on the wrong food with a vocal style that I could only describe as a more painful version of Axel Rose. I almost couldn’t recover after that, even though the album got surprisingly better as the tracks went on. Macroscream manages to combine a lot of styles, from blues, jazz and funk to classic symphonic prog, and I’m not going to lie, there are some really great moments on this album from time to time. Check out the last two tracks, “Foolish Pawns,” and “To Be White.” Both are very enjoyable, and I think they’ll give you a better impression of the album than if you start from the beginning.