Metropolis, Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory – Dream Theater (1999)

Album artwork for Metropolis, Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory

Since the beginning of this blog, it has been inevitable that this day would come.  The day that I post about a Dream Theater album, that is.  Everyone who knows me will know that there was a time in my life when I was obsessed with all things Dream Theater.  Now although my opinion of the band may have been excessively elitist, the fact remains that they are deserving of all the high praise they receive.  Formed at Berklee College of Music in Boston back in 1985, Dream Theater has now become one of the biggest juggernauts in the progressive metal scene. Founding members John Petrucci, John Myung, and Mike Portnoy, certainly need no introduction, as they have become household names for all aspiring musicians in the rock discipline.  Although Mike Portnoy has since left the band to pursue other projects (such as critically acclaimed rock supergroup Flying Colors), he was still a driving force with Dream Theater at the time of their fifth studio album, Metropolis, Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory.

With the release of this album also comes the Dream Theater debut of well-known and unbelievably talented keyboardist Jordan Rudess.  After their first keyboardist, Kevin Moore, left the band in 1994, the band initially approached Rudess and asked him to join the band, however he opted to take a position touring with the Dixie Dregs at the time.  Dream Theater then hired Derek Sherinian, a fellow Berklee alumnus, who played with them until 1999, when he was replaced by Rudess.  Rounding out the band is James LaBrie, who has been the primary vocalist for Dream Theater since 1991.

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groundUP – Snarky Puppy (2012)

Album artwork for groundUP

Album artwork for groundUP

Every once in a while during my continuous search for new music, I have the incredible fortune of stumbling upon an artist or band that is indisputably one of most talented acts of today’s music industry.  That was definitely the case with Snarky Puppy.  No, I’m not talking about an ill-tempered mongrel; I’m talking about one of the most inventive and original instrumental fusion bands that I’ve heard in quite some time.  I went to see them at one of their live gigs a couple months ago on a whim, and I’ve been hooked ever since.  The reason for this is simple: creative ingenuity.

Of course, all of the music that I post on this blog is here for it’s creative ingenuity, so perhaps I am simply rehashing old themes.  Maybe so, however there is something that sets Snarky Puppy apart.  I believe that they capture the true meaning of the word “fusion” as it is applied to music.  Cicily Janus, author of “The New Face of Jazz: An Intimate Look at Today’s Living Legends and Artists of Tomorrow,” writes that “Snarky Puppy is one of the most inventive [groups] in sound and funk since Maynard Ferguson’s fusion years.”  Michael League, the bassist, principal composer, and leader of the group, has aptly labeled their sound as “jafunkadansion.”  Now we could probably argue over what exactly such a term means for quite a long time, however the only way we would ever find the answer to such a philosophical question would be to listen to groundUP, the latest (and dare I say greatest) release from Snarky Puppy.

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Immersion – Pendulum (2010)

Album artwork for Immersion

Album artwork for Immersion

As the growth of more advanced music technology has increased exponentially in recent years, so has the creation of electronic music.  Although there is still a large demographic that criticizes such styles for countless reasons (the most prevalent being lack of creativity, talent, and/or that certain “human” element), this is only to be expected.  Historically, every time a new genre of music has thrust its way into the public eye, there have always been just as many naysayers as there have been believers.  Look at rock ‘n’ roll, rap, and jazz.  Even classical composers faced negativity throughout their careers. The fact of the matter is that people are always initially resistant to change.  Music, on the other hand, is constantly transforming, and musicians are always looking for new ways to mold it into new and unique adaptations.  Electronica is simply one of these more recent transformations.  With such a philosophy established, it is easy to sit back and immerse oneself in the subtle nuances and extraordinary sound design of the digital revolution.

That being said, I am excited to present to you the latest album from Australian drum & bass group Pendulum.  Immersion is their third full-length studio album, and in my opinion it is the most cohesive.  Although the majority of the songs are consistent with the fast-paced and frenetic mood of drum & bass, they explore a variety of other styles as well.  This is exemplified by the catchy, electro house vibe of “The Island –  Pt. I (Dawn)” and “The Island – Pt. II (Dusk),” the dubstep tendencies of “Set Me On Fire,” and the electronic/metal fusion “Self vs. Self,” which features Swedish melodic death metal band In Flames.

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Flying Colors – Flying Colors (2012)

Album artwork for Flying Colors

Album artwork for Flying Colors

“It started with a simple idea: virtuoso musicians and a pop singer joining to make new-fashioned music the old fashioned way.”  This was the proclaimed genesis for what would soon develop into one of the most exciting musical collaborations in recent rock history. Flying Colors, a supergroup of sorts formed out of some of the most distinguished and respected titans in the modern rock discipline, released their self-titled debut album earlier this year.  A remarkable fusion of classic rock, blues, progressive rock, funk, metal, and just about anything else you can find in the kitchen cupboard, Flying Colors is a staunch reminder of how rock music took the world by storm and hasn’t fully given it back ever since.

Before getting more into the music itself, however, we should take a look at the players.  On guitar we have Steve Morse, who is well-known as a founder of the Dixie Dregs, a member of Kansas for several years, and the current guitarist for Deep Purple.  On bass guitar is Dave LaRue, who has been working with Steve Morse for many years already due to his involvement with the Dixie Dregs since 1988 and with the Steve Morse Band since 1989.  He has also contributed to albums from the likes of T Lavitz, Joe Satriani, Jordan Rudess, John Petrucci, and Planet X.  The keyboardist (and backing vocalist) for Flying Colors is Neal Morse (not of any relation to Steve), who has made a name for himself as the main songwriter for progressive rock band Spock’s Beard for many years, a member of Transatlantic (a prog rock supergroup), and as a solo artist with ten studio albums to his name, with another one coming later this year.  The instrumental section of the band is rounded out with none other than Mike Portnoy on drums, who co-founded the renowned progressive metal band Dream Theater back in 1985 and continued to play with them for the next 25 years.  In addition, he has pursued countless side projects over the years, including Liquid Tension Experiment, Transatlantic (with Neal Morse), tribute projects for the Beatles, Rush, Led Zeppelin, and the Who, and Adrenaline Mob, to name but a few.  He also recorded drum tracks for most of Neal Morse’s solo albums, and he served as an interim drummer for heavy metal band Avenged Sevenfold in 2010.  Last on this list is vocalist Casey McPherson, a singer/songwriter and lead vocalist for alternative rock band Alpha Rev.  He is the definite dark horse of the group, but his contributions to the album more than make up for his short list of credits.  I, for one, am looking forward to what he has in store for us in the future.

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Tribute – Yanni (1997)

Album artwork for Tribute

For several weeks now, I have struggled with indecision over the matter of my first post on this blog. After all, first impressions are undoubtedly of paramount importance in this world of high-speed media.  So it was with great deliberation that I finally decided on Tribute, the live album recorded and released by Greek musical sensation Yanni back in 1997. Although he was frequently labeled as “New Age” (much to his chagrin) back in the day, he is now seen as the visionary and boundary-breaking contemporary instrumentalist and composer that he is.

I selected this album by Yanni for a couple of reasons.  It came to my mind as a result of childhood memories; one of the first musical experiences in my life that I can remember is watching the VHS recording of this concert with my father.  Back then, I had yet to receive any musical training, and the extent of my musical knowledge was meager at best (think *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys).  Nonetheless, I was enraptured by it almost immediately.  Tribute is the amalgamation of two separate concerts – one performed at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, and the other at the Taj Mahal in India.  Even today, the sheer amount of effort required to put on a full-scale concert in front of either of these iconic landmarks is enough to deter just about everyone.  Everyone but Yanni, that is. And he certainly put on a show that lived up to its high expectations while strongly defied all its opposing skepticism.

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