For almost two years, some of my friends and I have been sharing music. We’re supposed to review/rate what gets shared with us, and share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.
Hanson – Anthem (2013)
Here’s a carry-over from last week.
My overall impression is that this album is more mature than Middle of Nowhere. Considering this is their latest release, and it was released almost 20 years after they recorded their first, the additional maturity shouldn’t be surprising. The vocals are especially more solid, but the overall musicality is also better. For Your Love was the best example of maturity – to the point that I thought it could pass for a Billy Joel song (from his later years).
I really liked the energy of the opening track (and the Terminator reference, intentional or not). But mostly there’s less “wow” than I felt their first album had. Not that there aren’t any highs. They’re just not as high. Get the Girl Back and Juliet both had some good grooves, but the best of the bunch was I’ve Got Soul.
Toward the end of the album, I was very impressed with Tonight. I didn’t love it at first, but got better and better as it went on. Already Home also grew on me, but I started liking it okay and didn’t impress me as much as Tonight by the end (if that makes any sense at all).
To be fair, I think the lows are higher too. Scream and Be Free did some weird switching key signatures, and, while it made for interesting songwriting, I didn’t love it.
This was still the best album I hear this week. 3/5
Secret Machines – Ten Silver Drops (2006)
I’ve only heard a couple of Secret Machines songs before, and they were both instrumentals, so I was mildly surprised to learn that wasn’t the norm. I was previously impressed at their musicianship, so was looking forward to this album more than the others this week.
And I think I had too high of expectations. This album wasn’t bad. In fact, I liked it more than the album I shared this week. But the anticipation of listening to it was more than maybe it should have been. For that very reason I try to avoid watching movie trailers or reading reviews of movies I know I’m already going to see.
As it was, I was unimpressed with the vocals on All at Once. It made me wish they’d just stick with the instrumental tunes that were my introduction to them. On the flipside, 1,000 Seconds was “space-ier,” which is stylistically more like how I think of them. I thought was great.
Not all of the vocals were bad. Lightning Blue Eyes had some of the best vocals (which still weren’t amazing, but reminded me of Harvey Danger’s Flagpole Sitta), energy and musicianship, making it one of the strongest on the album. An even 3/5.
From my friends:
“I’ve never heard of secret machines, but I’ve listened to some stoner rock so I’m familiar with the sound. The biggest hurdle here was the vocals. They weren’t bad but something about the sound of the singer’s voice didn’t seem to fit the music quite right. At least he wasn’t screaming. I liked the sound a lot. I’ll listen to this again.” 4/5 – Spencer
“I liked this one more than I thought I would. It was really well performed and produced. I’m impressed enough I’ll listen to more, although it sounds like this one might be an anomaly?” – 4/5 Tim
Red Hang – Rising (2014)
I know next to nothing about this band/album other it features instrumental tunes played on a percussion instrument called a “hang;” it’s like a UFO shaped, steel drum-inspired instrument. This band is just one musician (Ben Dieterle) who is a local (Salt Lake City) artist.
Occasionally his timing was off, and not in a syncopated kind of way, but more in an organically human kind of way. My first reaction was slight discomfort, but I quickly got over that. You could also hear Ben breathing from time to time, which added to the humanity of the music.
The very repetitive nature of some of the songs bothered me more. For example, the first 30 seconds and last 30 seconds of Butterfly Love were interesting, but everything else was just filler. When I first read the description of what the hang is and Ben’s description of this album, I expected it to be more meditative. Instead, I was amazed how the repetition created some low level tension. It’s not really a bad thing, it just surprised me.
Maybe because it was so new, but during the first couple of songs, I didn’t notice the repetition as much. I mean, there was familiarity and variations, but without the stagnation I felt later. I think the album’s opener and closer were the most melodically interesting.
Hearing this unique instrument made me wonder how it’s tuned. I mean, I know it just has fixed pitches, but are different units tuned differently (like many harmonicas) meaning players have to switch instruments to switch keys/modes? Or does each unit contain a chromatic range, like a small glockenspiel? And are they even tuned to conventional western tunings?
This was very interesting, but I think once I got used to it, it didn’t hold my attention as much. I’m not sure I could listen to a lot of this without mixing it in. I’m not sure I could do a whole concert of this either. But I actually liked this more than Secret Machines, which I’m going to chalk up to the expectations I had about these two albums and how they measured up to those expectations. It’s not really fair, but I’m only human. 3/5
From my friends:
“Frankly, I don’t know why these hang drum players think they’re so novel. They just are a steel drum played with hands. And actually many times through the album I could really hear the slapping skin on metal which I thought took away from the ambient hum of the instrument. This is ok background music, but mostly because I found very little to really keep my interest.” 3.2/5 – Spencer
Dream Theater – Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory (1999)
If you’ve been reading my blog and following along, you shouldn’t be new to prog rock. This week I thought I’d share my prog gateway.
I’ve already shared Yes, but most of my other prog-ish music in high school was on the more mainstream side: like Styx, early Journey, and Sgt. Pepper’s-era Beatles. It wasn’t until college that I took a deeper look (and probably still not as deep as Spencer has gone). That all started because someone introduced me to Dream Theater (the same time the same person introduced me to Guster, by the way).
It all started with the keyboard solo on Fatal Tragedy. They just showed me that. Then I listened to the whole song. I followed that up with the whole album, then their other stuff, and on to other prog.
Metropolis—Part I: “The Miracle and the Sleeper” came off their 1992 Images and Words, if you care. I don’t know that it really ties into the story of this album.
This is, like how I think most prog is, a concept album. It tells the story of a man who undergoes hypnotherapy to discover he lived a past life as a woman who was murdered. Through his hypnosis, he discovers she was not murdered by one lover (who had a drug problem, so she left him for his brother) like everyone thought, but by the brother who was jealous when the first lover cleaned up his act and she took him back. With that knowledge … the album cuts to static.
Their next album opens up with that same static, but it doesn’t continue the story. Instead, in live shows they finish it off by explaining that the story ends with his murder by the hypnotherapist who is the first murderer reincarnated.
Anyway, I’m not sure it’s prog rock at it’s absolute finest, but I credit it as my gateway album. And that keyboard solo is still one of my musical inspirations/influences/goals-to-be-as-awesome-as.
From my friends:
“I think this one is the hardest for me to review. I always approach prog with a mindset that I WON’T love it the first time. Not that its unpleasant but you kind of need a few listens just to get the lay of the land and then you can start trying to understand it.
I only got through it about 2 times and neither one afforded much opportunity to catch the lyrics. As for the story/concept of the album, I didn’t feel like it really added much to the album. The music would have been fine or even better without the theatrics.
Dream theater is a bit more metal than my particular taste of prog, but this isn’t bad. Petrucci has some great licks in there that I really liked, and Rudess is pretty incredible. That said, both those (especially Rudess) are kind of technicians that don’t always do the best of conveying any emotion, mostly just perform impressive instrumental acrobatics. I still like to listen to it, but Pink Floyd is better because nearly every song they write moves me in some way. I suppose Floyd isn’t the proggiest of rock.
Anyway, I enjoyed it, especially the last few tracks, Once Last Time and The Spirit Carries On. Part of that is because they reminded me very much of Pink Floyd. Several of Petrucci’s lines made me think he was quoting Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
I’ll come back.” 4.2/5 – Spencer
“Didn’t really like this one. It just seemed all over the place. I honestly kept thinking the next song would be the last one, and it just kept going. I honestly sat in silence for a good ten minutes before I realized it had finally ended. But, I am giving it 3 stars because I could see a lot of talent here, I just didn’t personally like it.” 3/5 – Tim