Wisdom of Crowds – Bruce Soord, Jonas Renkse (2013)

Bruce Soord, Jonas Renkse

Album artwork for Wisdom of Crowds

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.

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Milliontown – Frost* (2006)

Album artwork for Milliontown

Album artwork for Milliontown

In the progressive rock scene, it is often hard to rise up above the continuous stream of new music being released.  The problem is certainly not that too many groups end up sounding the same.  After all, this is a genre that prides itself on being unique.  No, the usual problem is that there isn’t enough substance in the music.  It can be a surprisingly difficult task to write intricate and musically complex songs that also feature strong, memorable material.  As a result, any artist that can accomplish such a task often stands out amongst their contemporaries.  It is for this reason that I discovered Frost*, a neo-prog outfit from England. From the first time I heard Milliontown, their debut album, I was hooked.  It contains all of the crucial elements to appeal to several different musical followings; it’s got crunchy guitar riffs for the rockers and rollers, lighter material with a poppier edge to appeal to a more mainstream audience, and of course it has heaps of intense instrumental breakdowns that attract all the prog fanatics.

From the first moments of “Hyperventilate,” featuring an open-ended piano solo that climaxes into a powerful 7/4 groove that quickly establishes the group as a prog powerhouse, it is easy to tell that Milliontown is going to be an exciting ride.  It is beautifully produced, thanks to the meticulous work of Jem Godfrey, who is the keyboardist, main vocalist, and producer.  The guitar tracks work extremely well with the rest of the rhythm section to fill up the entire sonic field, whether it’s with polished distortion or raw acoustic simplicity.  The real star of the show, however, is the multitude of synth sounds.  Whether it’s with a subtly-effected piano sound or a soaring synth lead, Godfrey packs a punch that easily distinguishes the band’s sound.

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Perspective – Jake Nielsen (2012)

Jake Nielsen

Album artwork for Perspective

This post has a bit of special significance for me. Today we’re taking a look at Perspective, the debut album from Virginia resident Jake Nielsen.  Jake has spent decades creating his own unique blend of music that combines the complexity of progressive rock with more melodic singer/songwriter leanings. As a deeply religious man, Nielsen’s lyrics pull heavily from his beliefs and make for a distinctly inspirational experience for any listener, regardless of one’s own ideologies.  He has essentially spent his entire musical career up until this point preparing for this release. Many of the tunes on this record have been in the works for many, many years.  After listening to the album, I can easily say that all those years of hard work have paid off; Perspective is a brilliant display of razor-sharp musicianship and thought-provoking songwriting.  This is a man who has mastered the art of perfectly balancing emotional sincerity and awe-inspiring virtuosity in music.  This is also the man who served as my mentor and piano instructor for the majority of my pre-college youth.

It’s an interesting study of character to pick out all of the various musical influences in an artist’s music.  On his Facebook page, Jake Nielsen cites his main influences as Dream Theater, Billy Joel, Ben Folds Five, and Neal Morse.  This is actually an extremely accurate representation of Nielsen’s music.  The obvious comparison to Neal Morse can certainly be heard in the Christian singer/songwriter vibe present on Perspective.  The incredible musical talent that Nielsen possesses on the keyboards is a combination of Jordan Rudess’s technically demanding parts in Dream Theater’s music and the contemporary, slightly jazzy style of Billy Joel and Ben Folds.  For someone who has never listened to much progressive rock before, I would say that this album is definitely an excellent bridge between such a style and more accessible contemporary music.

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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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