Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Favorites: Progressive Rock Albums from MINNESOTA

Progressive Rock in Minnesota or from Minnesota. At one point it became a completely false statement, or at least for a younger/newer fan of progressive rock and metal in the 90's and early 2000's it was incredibly rare to find, and notice interest outside of Minnesota and the "prog scene" aka at prog festivals, on message boards/forums and in some of the magazines.

And maybe even worse than that, the local music media rarely talked about much of it, if at all. Or especially never used the "p" word when they did.

And I suppose the fact is, there was some of it many years ago that I knew about, or meant to check out but never got to. Or bands/artists who played live and never managed to record anything I can find on record.

Gypsy I recall, is a band from the 1970's I have heard of and seen their early 70's Vinyl records for pretty high prices in the last 5 years, but I honestly have yet to hear much from. Given my interest in bands like Renaissance and even Fairport Convention somewhat, I probably could dig them.

Or Sussman Lawrence I guess has some prog roots, as I was told a story about their bassist Al Wolovitch,, once spent a whole summer locked in a cabin learning Yes's Fragile album. And another story of him playing Al Di Meola's Land of the Midnight Sun on a guitar with 1-string, lol.

Peter Himmelman went on to much greater success with his solo career which wasn't really prog though.

Dan Wilson of Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic as well as a solo artist, has mentioned more than once to being a big Yes fan, although I'm not sure if much if any of his music really dove into prog regardless. But maybe I haven't heard the right music?

Prince isn't prog, although it could be argued he's progressive, so in a way, one of the biggest musical acts in general from Minnesota, could fit in here, but at the same time, I really only know his hits well and some of the 80's records.

With a lot of that being brought up, it seems over the last decade or even 15 years, many underground bands have made prog or related records that have reached my radar. And I'd say especially in the last 7 or 8 years, many of the best progressive rock albums from Minnesota have been made and released, And in some cases, just albums overall as from the list I made a few weeks ago about favorite albums from 2010-2014, 3 or 4 of them were included being among the best albums I've heard in this current decade overall.

Brice Plays Drums

Lehto and Wright


The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra

Words for Penga

Greg Herriges

So in a way, I've found a lot of it of late, which might be safe to say prog in Minnesota is flourishing in some ways. And with active bands. Namely groups like Brice Plays Drums, The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra, RisingSide, Words for Penga, Hardcore Crayons, Lehto and Wright and Cloud Cult of course.

And with Cloud Cult, while to me they are progressive, to others, they are I suppose a chamber/barqoue rock band really who literally and figuratively uses "Art" as a large part of their direction and message. Along with the environment and science I guess. I mean maybe they aren't big Yes or Genesis fans, but they also don't seem to follow any pop-standard rules aka they break or make their own rules and among their lengthly catalog, have experimented with many sounds, textures, themes, etc..using samples, and a lot of other stuff.

So I concluded when I finally got into them a few years ago, despite them being a band who some of the music media have championed and force-fed at times via Radio K, Citypages, or The Current,  etc their music still falls in line with what I consider progressive as much as just "Art Rock."

So, with all that being said, and I'm sure there's a lot more I could and very well may add about my seemingly neverending agenda to have prog in Minnesota be a real thing that more people and even the music media both in Minnesota and around the Globe could and should know about.

Here's a list of many of my favorite progressive records from Minnesota mostly from the last 10 years or so. Perhaps in due time, I may discover the Gypsy and Sussman Lawrence records among others I'm not thinking or unaware of.

A List about my favorite Minnesota Artists on Rateyourmusic.com I made

Such Fine Particles of the Universe cover art
Bubblemath - Such Fine Particles of the Universe (2002)
This was probably the 1st "prog" band I ever discovered  from Minnesota that the progressive rock scene knew. I just recall my friend Creighton talking about them on one of the radio shows we did on KFAI and then I checked them out and enjoyed them.

Kind of Gentle Giant meets Devo in some ways. Their 2nd album in some ways has become like the Chinese Democracy of the undeground prog world.

At least in 2014 they released their 1st track since this debut record of theirs.

Notable Tracks: Be Together. Dollhammer

The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra - Lookin' For a Little Strange (2009)

1 of a few groups John Wright is involved with on this list. TGCO debut record. I probably could have chose any of their 3 records, but I guess given it includes my favorite track of theirs overall "Dark Matter" this is still probably my go-to.

Jazz-Rock with bluegrass elements.

Greg Herriges- Telluric Currents (2009)

Progressive Acoustic Ethnic Folk? Some wonderful compositions on this album, and quite a unique or original blending of styles.

Media Addicts | Autonomy
Media Addicts - Autonomy
Jaw-dropping heavy jazz-rock. Top-notch musicianship. Many of the tracks have multiple sections I look forward to each time through.

Bubble & Squeak cover art
Mike Linden - Bubble and Squeak
Very impressive Jazz-Rock very much in the tradition of Return to Forever and Pat Metheny.

Man The Animal Cannon cover art
Brice Plays Drums - Man the Animal Cannon (2012)
3 epic tracks all composed to perfection. Less is more.

Cloud Cult - Light Chasers (2010)
My favorite Cloud Cult record. A concept album, that is a journey album of sorts. The segues are incredible, and the lyrics and melodies are very inspiring. "We've all got energy in us."

Lehto and Wright - Children's Songs (2010)
4 tracks, 2 lengthly, 2 shorter. The title track suite runs the gamut of references and style. From Bartok, to Led Zeppelin. This is about as good as folk music and progressive rock can get to me.

The Book of Right On - All These Songs About Music (2010)
This band was amazing and this is their only released full-length album.

I guess they reminded me of a few groups, but I suppose the King Crimson style of instrumentation and the Primus quirky-ness including the lead vocals, stood out.

At the same time, the talent-level seems through the roof with this band. And it showed well on this debut album of theirs.

Dean Magraw's Red Planet cover art
Dean Magraw's Red Planet Space Dust (2009)

This is quite an amazing live record that I find may be the greatest recording capturing much of Dean Magraw's vast talents. His group interprets music from the likes of John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix and even Solom Linda's "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"

Pure magic and a trip. I just wish the countless concerts I've seen Dean perform (with Red Planet along with many others like Eight-Head, Boiled in Lead, or Davu Seru) could be experienced in greater quantities by others. But at least this is a great way to go revisit it,

King of the Ocean cover art
The Royal Veil -  King of the Ocean (2013)
Doomy prog metal. "Into the Sun" maybe being my favorite track on this album. Their sound I often like to describe as The Mars Volta meets Tool, but I actually hear a lot of other influences as well. And Doomy/Sludge Metal I have become less into over recent years, but this album probably still being an exception.

Iron and Rust cover art
Nomia -  Iron and Rust (2014)
Long awaited debut full-length from one of my favorite "Post" bands working today. I guess I find their style of heavy Post Rock almost like how I wish Russian Circles sounded now.

Great record start to finish aka greater than the sum of its parts.

RisingSide - Arrow: The Onus Key (2013)

My favorite new Minnesota band discovery in 2014. They do a heavy brand of prog that is certainly influenced by Coheed and Cambria and Tool. But with Katie Lundberg's vocals certainly give them some distinction. Overall though, good songwriting. And even though their current amazing guitarist Juan Carlos did not play on this debut album of theirs, the lead guitar work is still a great part of Arrow's sound.

A Spell and Seeking Avalon are among my favorite tracks.

Words for Penga -  Prose (2015)

Very impressive debut record that just was released in the last month or so. Definitely thus far, my favorite newly discovered band from Minnesota. They remind me of East of the Wall in a lot of ways, with their dynamics and mix of clean and screaming vocals. Their singer almost does sound like Daron from System of a Down, but in a good way.

Also I very much appreciate their use of saxophone.

An album I would not be surprised to finish rather high at the end of this season/year.

some other records I enjoy (that maybe I'll do a Part 2 and try and write up as well):

Hardcore Crayons - Zozzled (2015)
Brice Plays Drums - ProgTagonist (2014)
Put Down the Muffin - Charged Particles (2014)
The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra - Zombie Mouth (2014)
The Royal Veil - The Royal Veil [EP] (2012)
Brice Plays Drums - I Laugh at Your Greener Pastures (2011)
The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra - All Out of Peaches (2011)
City of Sound - L'implosion (2009)
Media Addicts - Elsewhere (2008)
Cloud Cult - Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes) (2008)
Nomia - Nomia EP (2008)
The Bad Plus - Prog (2007)
Cloud Cult - The Meaning of 8 (2007)
Empires - Through Trial and Tribulation Comes Triumph (2007)
Between Two Skies - A Thousand Conscious Moments [EP] (2007)...This EP I do enjoy a lot, and whenever they release a full-length I likely could find it among my favorites given for a good while they were my favorite band from Minnesota. The new music they wrote for it is amazing having seen them play many of the songs over a few years/many shows.

A Whisper in the Noise - As the Bluebird Sings (2006)
Greg Herriges - It Plays Me (2005)
Lehto and Wright - The Thrashing Machine and Other Stories (2005)
Cloud Cult - Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus (2004)
Lehto and Wright - A Game of Chess (2003)
A Series of Clicks and Beeps - Demo?
Best Friends Forever - Best Friends Forever (?)
Lehto and Wright - The Further Adventures of Darling Cory (2002)
Gracepoint - Science of Discontent (2000)
Lehto and Wright - Ye Mariners All (2000)
Conditioned Response - In Flagranté Delecto (1999)
Lord of All Desires - The Scent of Malevolence (1997)
Magellanmusic - A Strange Traffic of Dreams (1997)
Conditioned Response - Pavlov's Dogs (1997)

Own/Wishlisted but haven't gotten into or around to listening to the studio recordings:
Other Country Ensemble - no studio albums at this point, but there could be soon.
Blue Canoe - Blue Canoe
Run at the Dog - Scutigera, Yeah!
Iced Ink - There's A Bee In Here
Lost Mind Found
Sussman Lawrence
Greg Herriges + John Wright's very Crimson-esque band from the 1990's and Produkt.
Stellar Vector