Tuesday, February 24, 2015

John Bassett

Greetings, fellow progheads!  Leaving Detroit left me a bit melancholy; seven days with Discipline made for a truly inspiring week.  However, not being one to rest on my laurels, I hastily refueled the Concert Closet and decided to pull a Monty Python "...now for something completely different..." move by reviewing two bands and one solo performer--all three the brain child of the same artist. Over the past decade John Bassett has been the front man for KingBathmat and recently started a new endeavor, Arcade Messiah.  Taking yet another jaunt across the pond, I bring my search for all things prog back to London for a prog celebration of sorts listening to the John Bassett trifecta; KingBathmat and Arcade Messiah as well as his solo work.

Bassett refers to himself as a "...multi-instrumentalist, sing-songwriter, and producer..." and has seven self-released albums on his own Stereohead Records label; a fairly impressive bullet point on a resume.  Let's walk together through the prog garden...stopping at different vantage points to absorb the view, ponder the soundscape, and soak in what Mister Bassett has been churning out...  

Since I am taking a few liberties this week, I will begin with the KingBathmat section of the buffet. Self-described as an "...independent, psychedelic, progressive, alternative rock band,"  KingBathmat is as easy to pin down as an enraged honey badger.  Strong aromas of Dream Theater, Uriah Heep, and  a heavy dose of Humble Pie run through their sound.  Heavy guitar suggestive of Joe Satriani permeates the headphones one minute while a smooth, velvet-like sound reminiscent of Klaatu wafts through your ears the next.  KingBathmat takes prog to a different level in that they don't just refuse to be labeled--they dare you to try.

The song posted below is called "Sentinel."  A piece from the darker section of John's acreage in the prog garden, the guitars and drums simply slap you right out of the gate.  Once the onslaught subsides, you are met by subtle piano work and vocals that settle over the top like warm caramel poured over a sundae.  KingBathmat crawls inside your head slowly and deliberately, only to explode across the lining of your cranium with one big blast.


Moving to the next section of the buffet table, I find a sampling of John's solo work and come away with a more subtle, aptly titled piece called "Stay Away From the Dark."  A more delicate opening; acoustic guitar meshing seamlessly with vocals as smooth as corduroy.  A sense of foreboding undermines the tranquility of the mood...like a beautiful woman warning you to turn back--which entices you to forge ahead faster with more determination.  Top notes of 10cc and Asia bleed through this tune; John added more colors to his palette and painted a very vivid and mottled picture.        

Liner Notes...John Bassett hails from Walthamstow, London.  Leaving school at a young age to pursue a more music filled life, John--a right-hander by nature--taught himself to play guitar left-handed, albeit on a right-handed guitar (sort of a reverse Jimi Hendrix).  Straying deeper into the minefield that is the music world, John began writing songs and laying down all the instrument tracks.  Releasing self-produced albums online helped him get live gigs, build a following, and traverse a rather distinctive path, culminating in an extraordinarily diverse and varied career. While John provides the multi-instrumentalism for both his solo work and Arcade Messiah, KingBathmat credits Bernie Smirnoff  as the man behind the drum kit.

Heading back to the extensive buffet one last time for a taste of the deeper and darker Arcade
Messiah, I come away like a kid with the prize at the bottom of the Cracker Jack box--my reward being the song "Your Best Line Of Defence Is Obscurity."  Travelling the halls of your brain with a carefully timed alarm, the piece opens darkly...you can feel tension mount as guitars give way to steady drumming, and all the while a siren keeps warning you to look out--you just aren't sure what for.  Perhaps if obscurity really is what John is searching for, he should not have put together such a brilliant piece.  The apprehension is real, much like the fright you feel listening to Pink Floyd's "Careful With That Axe, Eugene."

Arcade Messiah is the alter-ego/dark side of John Bassett.  He is able to come at you full throttle with almost reckless abandon.  The music initially grabs you by the collar as it then slithers its fingers around your neck, moving with great swiftness to squeeze your entire brain.  An onslaught of Liquid Tension Experiment and strong top notes of Adrian Belew at his avant-garde best run rampant across this disc. Learn more about John and his prog moods at http://www.johnbassettmusic.com/ and http://arcademessiah.com/.  John can also be found on Twitter @johnbassettsolo  and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/kingbathmat/app_204974879526524.

Well fellow progheads, I hope you enjoyed the "three-fer" this week.  John Bassett trampled across the prog garden and set down roots in multiple sections, even to the point of cross-pollinating the prog vines he cultivates.  Recent discussion in a prog chatroom about what is/isn't prog and how today's bands stack up against the 70's "standard bearers" resulted in some particularly pointed arguments and points-of-view.  My personal take is that there is no comparison--the genre has evolved whether we "prog snobs" like it or not.  I have come down off my high horse of late...and thankfully so.  KingBathmat and Arcade Messiah are different reflections of the vast progressive spectrum--and what a shame it would be to miss either!  My search for all things prog has taught me to be open, receptive, and guarded--there are musicians and bands out there using the prog label to cover their inability to focus a thought...but it is worth wading through the muck and mire to discover jewels like John Bassett and all that he brings to the prog garden.  Until next week...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Good evening once again fellow progheads!  Having spent the first six weeks of 2015 traveling with a passport in search of all things prog, I decided to take the Concert Closet back to the good ol' USA for the next seven days.  I wanted my "homecoming" to be a worthwhile journey filled with anticipation...there must be a band somewhere in America fully engulfed in progressive music that has yet to grab my attention.  With the GPS set for "Domestic Prog" and a yearning for some deep layers, strong keyboards, and intense guitar work, I find the Concert Closet drawn to the Motor City and the powerful sound of Discipline.

Calling themselves an "...independent progressive rock band..." Discipline leaves much to the imagination--and my imagination usually functions in overdrive.  The name itself conjures up some creative illustrations; a King Crimson-like band that paints with a vivid brush, or perhaps a metal sound that throws amplifiers at you like missiles launched in battle...lots of random thoughts rolling around in my cranium...

...so rather than envision their sound, I find it much more effective to make my way directly to the buffet. My first helping is a song called "Crutches."  The music unfolds delicately at first--so you don't notice the sharp edges.  Vintage Uriah Heep seems to ooze from the headphones as the emotions build on guitars and drums.  Discipline tees up your senses and pounds them squarely with a mallet. Hard-hitting vocals are enveloped between thick walls of sound that run the gambit of imagery and expression...thirteen plus minutes of  prog chaos and mayhem.

Choosing carefully (each serving seems to be a full course), selection  number two is a tune called "When the Walls are Down."  Discipline comes out stalking, like a tiger tracking dinner. The vocals strike first; you can almost feel the blood fill the scratches on the inside of your skull. The music is dark and portentous as the tension builds, forcing itself to the surface.  Discipline dug deep in the prog garden looking for the darkest, richest soil in which to lay roots.

Liner Notes...Calling Detroit, MI their home port, Discipline has been making progressive music since 1987.  As is the life of many a band, Discipline survived a few line-up changes.  The artists presently calling themselves members of this prog outfit are Matthew Parmenter on vocals, saxophone, guitars, keyboards, and violin, Jon Preston Bouda on lead guitar, Matthew Kennedy on bass, and Paul Dzendzel on drums.  Apparently Matt Parmenter couldn't carry a drum kit while balancing at least one instrument from every other section of the orchestra...

Despite taking their name from a King Crimson album, Discipline has stronger top notes of early Genesis and Be Bop Deluxe.  I also detect aromas of Marillion and Transatlantic along with instrumental stretches reminiscent of the Alan Parsons Project.  Discipline has tilled soil in multiple sections of the prog garden and the resulting offshoots criss-cross the genre like lattice work in a vineyard.  Discipline is comfortable playing metal, classic, symphonic, and even avant-garde prog. Their synergy is more than just nearly three decades together; it is a kinship of the soul.

I decided to take a full plate from the buffet since it was my last selection for the week, and I discovered a  haunting song called "Before the Storm."  This piece starts  out slow, in an almost deceptive attempt to lure you in.  The initial rhythmic, methodical pulse is soon followed by a church-like organ that opens the gates for guitars to gracefully waltz through your headphones. Listening to each instrument meld into the others takes me to my prog happy place...there is so much going on you need to hear it to fully understand.  The realization that four people created the sound permeating the inner lining of my head is astounding.  Discipline may criss-cross the prog genre--but they outright own their section of the garden.  The mood and tempo shift so many times in this song I am dizzy from the euphoric ride.

The piece I chose to post for your weekly prog sampling is another mind-boggler.  It was difficult to narrow down the choices, but "Canto IV" nails what Discipline is about.  Pour a glass and dim the lights before taking this ride.  The abrupt opening awakens your senses in preparation for fifteen minutes of prog splendor.  Discipline is quite adept with a scalpel, cutting with surgical precision through layers of cartilage and sinew to get right to the heart.  Learn more about Discipline at http://www.strungoutrecords.com/.  You will also find them on Twitter @DisciplineBand   and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/DisciplineBand .

What a week fellow progheads!  Discipline was an experience in the truest sense of what today's progressive music has to offer.  There are many--dare I say hundreds--of prog bands that set out to redefine the genre; traveling their way at their pace, carving out a path previously unexplored. Discipline takes that up a notch with a sound that is unique while pulling from so many prog "tributaries."  They did not put it all in a Waring blender and spew forth a "different" style...rather they absorbed it all in and breathed life into an entirely new sound.  Never thought I would say this, but I now have a reason to go to Detroit! Anxious for what else lies in wait out there in the prog universe...until next week...


Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Greetings from far away places fellow progheads!  The Concert Closet has not spent much time docked at home since kicking off the 2015 search for all things prog, and this week is no exception. While I do have plans for touching down on familiar tundra soon, I spent the past seven days in my 2014 "home-away-from-home"--the United Kingdom--to expand my prog appreciation and spend time with a band that blends classic prog with a beaker full of originality, a touch of humor, and some serious boundary pushing...welcome to the sounds of Magrathea.

Magrathea refers to themselves as "...symphonic/neo prog rock...some dark moments with a quirky humour..."  It isn't often you hear the words "prog," "quirky'" and "humour" in the same sentence...so naturally my interest was piqued.  Consequently I parked the Concert Closet in Lancashire so I could locate this so-called quirkiness...

In keeping with what I anticipate to be an off center kind of week, I stomp up to the buffet for my first serving and come away with a tune called "Search For The Crystal."  Opening in true avant-garde style, my aural senses are bombarded by a calliope as the controls of a warped roller coaster/carousel are hijacked by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.  Very strong top notes of Marillion, Gentle Giant, and Beardfish permeate this prog stew, and I get a strong aroma of Van der Graaf Generator...I can already tell this is gonna be a wild week!

Elbowing my way back to the front of the line, my second helping from this exquisite feast is a song called "Agorophobic Witness Killer."  Magrathea are masters of auditory sleight-of-hand; what starts out as a dark, foreboding piece explodes in a plethora of brightly colored sound.  I am reminded of King Crimson's "Lizard" in that the music takes on a life of its own, leaping from the mind and bounding through your entire inner being.  Careful, lest you get caught up and forget you are but a mere mortal--the music is what's larger than life!

Liner Notes...hailing from Lancashire, UK, Magrathea originally formed in 1994 and have brought forth three self-produced albums from the prog garden thus far.  The current line-up consists of founding members Gary Gordon on bass and guitars, Glenn Alexander Barnes on keyboards and vocals, joined by Terry Bowles on bass and Stephen Lightfoot on drums.  It is worth noting that Gary and Glenn were a prog duo on the existing albums; Terry and Stephen are recent additions after Magrathea took a short hiatus.  The quartet is currently working on their fourth studio album and performing live.

Magrathea has sharp overtones of early Genesis with a side chaser of a Brian Eno in a lighter mood. I detect top notes of the Talking Heads and even a hint of Brand X.  Magrathea strikes from the dark side of the prog garden...however the facade slowly crumbles, giving way to a lighter, more melodic feel.  Imagine the Aristocrats attempting to be bullies and realizing the absurdity of it all.  Magrathea understands the need for real emotion in music--and the fact that not all emotions are dark and ominous.  There are multiple colors in the Magrathea paint box, and I sense many shades of grey splashed with boldness.  Magrathea has found that section of the prog garden where too much sun withers the fruit and total darkness stunts the growth...

Serving number three is from the lighter fare section of the buffet, a slightly whimsical piece called "Into The Drink Once More!"  I am immediately taken back to younger days and my sister's jewelry box; the sound cascading around a dancing ballerina as the lid is lifted...except I don't recall the melody echoing in my head being "What do You With a Drunken Sailor?"  Magrathea plays on a theme and whirls you away to a world of debauchery, over-the-top revelry, and just plain fun...all the while tapping the back of your skull with a ball pein hammer.

The clip I selected for your listening pleasure this week is called "It's About That Time."  The pleasant overtones are balanced by an emotional vocal performance reminiscent of  The Alan Parsons Project's Eric Woolfson.  Magrathea goes deep without drawing blood; making you think without making your head hurt.  Learn more about Magrathea at http://magrathea.bandcamp.com/.  You can also find them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @Magrathea5.

OK fellow progheads, seven more days just fell from the calendar like snowflakes from the sky, and we have yet to scratch the frozen acreage of new plantings in the prog garden!  Magrathea's beacon brought a much needed respite from the dark clouds that were hovering the past few weeks--but make no mistake; the prog garden is as rich and fertile as it is because of both.  My search for all things prog has brought me to the realization that without storms and dark clouds nothing grows...and a 24/7 forecast of sunshine and rainbows produces apathy, discontent, and ennui.  Magrathea has found the delicate balance between darkness and light; folly and solemnity.  Be prepared for an emotional see-saw ride as you dive deeper into the Magrathea end of the pool.

My search for all things prog continues to enlighten, encourage, and provoke...until next week...

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


Welcome once again fellow progheads!  With another seven-day cycle in my search for all things prog at the top of my "To-Do List," I decided to search out a new band in a new country...something a little on the darker side of prog.  One thrilling discovery thus far is how many new bands are on the horizon, expanding the boundaries of the prog garden.  Eager to try something a little different for the next 168 hours or so, I boarded the Concert Closet and set off to Portugal for a mind-cleansing experience with Disappearer.

Classifying themselves as "post-rock, progressive, regressive..." Disappearer hits you hard in much the same way Liquid Tension Experiment does--just with a heavier anvil.  But don't let me mislead you into thinking the music is all hot sauce with no sweet spot--quite the opposite.  What impresses me about this band is how they drive the soothing velvet melodies right through the beating heart of the roaring amplifiers.

The first heaping plateful from the prog buffet this week is a very solemn, ominous piece called "Goodnight Mr. Frankenstein."  The opening is dark as the drums strike first; a foretelling of something seemingly sinister.  The bass gives the music its pulse--a lifeline if you will.  The emotions that are stirred take you to that infamous eerie laboratory where you get the sense of a mad doctor doing dark things.  Disappearer goes right for the jugular with this piece and rather than simply cut it with a scalpel--they tear it with a chainsaw.

My return trip to the smorgasbord yields a tune called "Forget Me Pills." Disappearer certainly likes to paint with dark colors; you can feel the chill settle in over the entire piece.  Guitars carry this song but the drums once again pound a stake into your chest.  Without using layers of vocals, Disappearer is quite capable of telling a tale with sound.  I get a strong scent of Opeth and hints of Tool in the paintbox...

Liner Notes...Disappearer is yet another example of having one's thumb on the pulse of prog.  All the instruments played and lyrics written are from the heart, head, and mind of Pedro Coelho Pereira. The vocals and vocoder are performed by the Basement Dweller Choir.  Credit is also given to the assistant producer and psychic healer, one Paulo Franco.  So basically Pedro is an extremely talented individual who can play and write teamed up with some cool singers, all wrapped in a warm vibe...very progressive--me thinks even Steve Wilson would be proud.  Calling Lisbon, Portugal home, Disappearer has been on the prog scene together since 2012, and separately since 2008.  Their latest release proves the theory that the sum is greater than the parts...

My final selection from this extravagant buffet is a song called "Psycho Jane."  Following what appears to be the band's trademark, the opening feels like a curtain being peeled back slowly to reveal the inner workings of a complex being, pouring out emotions like waves hammering the beach.  I get a scent of Uriah Heep in the arrangement and a top note of latter-day Dream Theater in the pulsating, rhythmic beating your senses take.  Disappearer is not for the faint of heart--but you shouldn't be afraid of the dark and unknown...

The clip posted below is called "Stuck in a Loop."  Disappearer hits you softly at first, poking you in the ears, jabbing you in the ribs...just enough to keep your attention.  But the mood suddenly drops, sinking to the bottom of an abyss you can't quite see into.  The music is haunting; it's as if I am running knee deep through water trying to get away, only to turn and see I have made no progress despite my best efforts.  Disappearer took a backhoe to a dark corner of the prog garden and proceeded to make  a clearing into which they planted heavy, emotion laden seedlings.  Listening to them reach full bloom is exhilarating and frightening all at once.  Learn more about Disappearer at  http://www.disappearer.pt/.  Feel free to follow them on Twitter at @disappearerband...they can be found on Facebook as well.


The Concert Closet has certainly logged some frequent flyer miles heading into 2015 fellow progheads!  This trip to Portugal was especially fun for me because it shined a light on the darker side of prog--and the vision was captivating.  Disappearer stays in the somber bushes, but the more you allow the sound to flow over your ears, the deeper your understanding becomes.  The emotional pit from which Pedro writes is not just cold, callous, and disturbing; it holds a spark  of light for those traveling the dark road looking for a way out.  Hope echoes through the sound, and the reverberation resonates deep...until next week...