I’ve got to say that one of my favorite things about the current music industry is this strong resurgence of jam band music and culture that’s been going on for the past several years. As someone who wishes they had been alive to witness the explosion of psychedelic rock, progressive rock, and the jam band scene in the ’60s and ’70s, I am extremely happy about the genre’s relatively unimpeded longevity. After the Grateful Dead’s disbandment in 1995 as a result of guitarist and frontman Jerry Garcia’s death, the band Phish stepped in to fill the gap. Although they never achieved quite the amount of success and popularity that the Dead had, they certainly helped to keep the scene alive for the next decade. They were also an integral part of the rise of large-scale music festivals in the modern era. If you think about all of the festivals that host yearly events now – Bonnaroo, Coachella, Camp Bisco, Rootwire, Lightning in a Bottle, All Good, Wakarusa – the list goes on and on.
Dopapod is a group that is quickly rising to the forefront of the jam band scene. Born in 2007, they recently released their third studio album, Redivider, on 12/21/12. The entire record was recorded in a barn at Tyrone Farm, a solar powered farm in Pomfret, Connecticut. Despite the fact that it was released less than a year after their previous album, Drawn Onward (side note: if you haven’t picked up on this yet, the band really likes palindromes), there is nothing about Redivider that gives away any sense of rushed preparation. As a matter of fact, the entire thing is pure, musical gold.
Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm is just one of those records that makes you feel better almost immediately after pressing play. The soft, fingerpicked patterns on the acoustic guitar accompanying a dreamy male voice; it’s the classic combination for any typical singer-songwriter. Something sets Benjamin Francis Leftwich apart from the crowd, though. Maybe it’s the chorus effects on his voice, or the string arrangements overlaid on top of the guitar chords, or maybe it’s the artistically autobiographical nature of the lyrics. I think the main point is that this album has a clear sense of authenticity to it. Each song is a complete transference of Leftwich’s ideals and creative vision. It’s remarkably intimate as well, and makes it easy to feel as if you are an audience of one, listening to a private music session.
For years, I could never bring myself to give much attention to the typical singer-songwriter. After all, what do they really do other than pluck a few chords on the guitar and write songs about love? I’ve had a recent change in perspective, though. While it may not be the most complex or musically innovative sound, it’s rich in emotional content. What is music, if not the purest form of expressing oneself? The act of taking the tangled mass of thoughts in your head, deciphering them, and channeling them through your own personal form of artistic expression…it’s an amazing thing. If you’ve ever tried to write a song in the past, then you know how deceptively challenging it is.
I always love it when two musicians who have both put in the time developing their individual careers and finding success with their respective projects decide to come together to create a collaborative album. We saw this a few days ago with Storm Corrosion, the joint endeavor of Steven Wilson and Mikael Åkerfeldt. Today, I’ve got another such project, just released about a month ago on Kscope, a sub-label of Snapper Music which specializes in “post-progressive” music. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with Wisdom of Crowds, an album released by Bruce Soord and Jonas Renkse.
Bruce Soord is most popularly known for his role as the founder and creative mastermind behind The Pineapple Thief. Started in 1999, The Pineapple Thief has released nine studio albums over a thirteen-year career, including the most recent record, All the Wars. The group has become well-known in indie and progressive rock circles as a result of their unique stylistic crossovers between the two styles.
Brian Setzer has always been a bit of an old soul. He got his big break in the early 1980s as the frontman of a group called the Stray Cats, which gained popularity as a rockabilly revival band. With the music industry having moved on from its Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly days three decades earlier, their music was a nostalgic kick that helped to revitalize the genre. After four years with the group, Setzer began to pursue a career as a solo artist, releasing The Knife Feels Like Justice in 1986, which marked a shift towards a more roots rock type of sound. Then, in 1990, the Brian Setzer Orchestra was formed. As a 17-piece ensemble with a full trumpet, trombone, saxophone, and rhythm section, it was easily his most ambitious project yet. Despite early struggles to keep the extensive group financially supported, they soon signed with Interscope Records and released their landmark album The Dirty Boogie in 1998. The release broke through into the top ten on the US charts, and quickly came to define the retro swing revival throughout the next decade.
Brian Setzer doesn’t just echo the voices of swing band stars like Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington from ages past; he redefines the genre and makes it his own. As the frontman, main vocalist, and guitarist, Setzer commands his handpicked troupe of musicians with gusto. The energy captured in the recordings on The Dirty Boogie are absolutely unreal. By doing nothing more than closing your eyes, you can be transported to the hottest swingin’ jazz club of the ’40s. With a voice that channels equal parts Presley and Sinatra, he is versatile enough to either bring the house down with a fast, raunchy number or lull them to sleep with sweet, dulcet tones.
The indie scene in today’s music industry is as strong as ever. What originally began in the 1980s with the rejection of mainstream synthpop tendencies in favor of much rawer, grunge-influenced sound has metamorphosed into a unbelievably diverse collection of bearded, flannel-clad modern musicians. Of course, that’s a very simple way of describing it, but you get the idea. The point is that the concept of the highly independent artist who has total control of the creative side of their music. So now let’s dial our focus in quite a bit and shine the spotlight on a particular group from Great Britain named Clock Opera.
Although the band was first formed in 2009, they did not release their debut album, Ways to Forget, until 2012. Some would say that three years is a long time to prepare an album, but I would argue that there is no standard duration for such a feat. The one thing that can be said for certain is that the prolonged wait for the group’s debut was definitely worth it. After listening to the record many times and letting it sink in, its true potential shines through. Just as a fine wine matures with age, so too does Ways to Forget reap the benefits of its delayed release date.
Anyone who follows the progressive rock scene even a little bit will most likely have heard the names Steven Wilson and Mikael Åkerfeldt. The former is most well known for his brainchild Porcupine Tree, while the latter is the frontman of the notable Swedish prog metal outfit Opeth. Both groups have released ten studio albums over a two-decade period. Both have achieved outstanding success and critical acclaim in their respective fields. Both frequently cross the line between intense heavy riffs and delicate melodic passages. Yet they are two very distinct musical identities. Thus, it came as somewhat of a surprise and much of a thrill when it was announced that Wilson and Åkerfeldt would be collaborating on a brand new musical project known as Storm Corrosion.
The eponymous first album released by the newly formed duo in 2012 was not necessarily what we might have expected, though. In an interview back in 2010, Wilson stated “…we have this kind of passion [for] very experimental, obscure records, almost orchestral in their scope. And we wanted to make a record like that for a long time. It’s a long way from metal and it’s a long way from anything that, I think, Mikael has ever done…it’s actually a long way from anything I’ve done…The one thing we didn’t want to do is get together and do a prog metal supergroup, which would have been so easy to do – and kind of expected, in a way.”