Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Roger Dean - Dragon's Dream iOS game

Got home from work today, went online, and thanks to The Verge of all places found out there was an iPhone/iPad game out from Roger Dean. Who knew?! For all you youngsters out there Roger Dean made many famous album covers back in the ’70s and ’80s, most notably for Yes (not to mention designing their logo). His incredible technique with the airbrush let him create wondrous paintings for dozens of prog albums from that era. 

Yes logo

I’ve worn many of his designs on t-shirts over the years, and I’ve always wanted to build a Roger Dean house (with badgers in the basement) and have Roger Dean furniture in my (regular) house. I could write a whole article on his paintings and how they influenced my musical direction, but this is about his iOS game.

The app basically has three parts. There’s the art of course, there’s music, and there’s the actual game. In a way the art elements need no explanation. It’s all Roger Dean paintings. The music surprised me a bit to be honest. I was expecting boring game music, but it’s actually somewhat interesting. I haven’t played the game for hours on end, but the pieces I’ve heard so far have been pretty good, sort of “prog lite” in a way. Not elevator music at all, but a synth-heavy and not overly simple bit of game music. Definitely background to the game, but good in its own right. And the game? It’s fun. I’m not a gamer with lightning-fast twitch reflexes, so I guess I’m what’s known as a casual gamer. Dragon's Dream is easy to play and it’s fun. You’re basically flying a dragon around avoiding obstacles and picking up objects. Not a revolutionary concept, but a good solid side scroller. 

As you play you get rewarded by unlocking images you can use as backgrounds on your device, which is cool as they're Roger Dean paintings. So far I’ve gotten two of the seven without too much effort. I’m hoping the others are equally reachable as so far I’ve not gotten a score better than an E. I’m hoping that stands for “excellent” but I have a funny feeling that it’s really only the tiniest bit better than an F. Told you I wasn’t a gamer. 

I’m not sure Dragon’s Dream will set the gaming world on fire, but it’s only US$5. If you’re a Roger Dean fan, as I am, it’s pretty much worth it though.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Glass Hammer - Perilous - The Review

Wow. Just played the new Glass Hammer album for the first time. Loud. In headphones. It’s called Perilous. Classic prog rock at its finest. 

Lofty mellotrons, growling organs, and classic Moogs, righteous guitars, bass that won’t quit, drums propelling things forward, vocals floating high above it all, harmonies aplenty. And you know, maybe a flute or recorder or something as well now and then, just for the heck of it.

This album is everything I love about Glass Hammer. Great music, well written and well played, brand new and yet completely familiar even though it’s my first listen. I guess all I really need to say is that they speak my language. Or maybe what’s closer to the truth is they speak the language I already hear.

The album’s an hour long, and all I could think when it ended was, “darn, it’s over.”

In some ways I feel lost when I try to write about them, try to describe them. They have that great prog rock sound. Yes, Gentle Giant, Utopia, all the classic prog bands from the ’70s and ’80s. But they also rock, and their music is informed by the 21st century as well. It’s the music I’d play and write if I played and wrote that way, if I hadn’t taken that turn towards Tangerine Dream and Synergy all those years ago. I suppose if I’d gotten the organ before I’d gotten my Minimoog things might have turned out differently, but I learned to play keyboards on the Moog rather than the Hammond. Suffered for it ever since! (Which I always say with a grin.)

13 songs, all tied together, maybe better described as 13 movements in one continuous piece of music. No bathroom breaks, so plan ahead. I guess if I had to describe it all I’d have to say simply that it’s heroic from start to finish. Just the way a great prog album ought to be. 

They’re threatening to tour this album. I sure hope they do. I’ll be there.

Or the band's own Perilous page.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Glass Hammer - Perilous

Glass Hammer—good ol’ American prog at its finest. They’ve been making albums for well nigh forever, but for some reason I only heard of them maybe 5 years ago, although I have to say I wish I'd found them earlier. If you don’t know them, they’re kind of a large bit of Yes with a healthy dose of Gentle Giant thrown in as well, not to mention their own selves in there too. Which to me is cool, because good new prog is not so easy to find these days, although perhaps we’re seeing somewhat of a resurgence lately. 

I always like Glass Hammer, and sometimes I totally love them. Some knock them as a ’70s Yes clone, and in some ways that has some validity. On the other hand though, with careful listening they shine through as their own thing. In a way Glass Hammer is what Yes might have been if they kept at the prog thing and didn’t take their detour into pop. I’m not saying this as well as I’d like to. I guess what I’m trying to say is that with one quick listen you might dismiss them as a Yes band, but if you did that you’d be doing yourself a disservice.

But may I make all that I just said a tad murkier by saying my favorite Glass Hammer song is their cover of South Side of the Sky? (If this were an email to a friend I’d have just put in a little smilie there.)

But to clarify, all kidding aside, if I didn’t know it was originally by "some other band" I would have been blown away their version of the song. But because I loved the song already, well that made it even better. Simply put, it’s better than the Yes version. It’s dark. It’s eerie. It’s both very quiet and it also totally rocks, while at the same time being somewhat on the funky side. The vocals are superb. The instrumentation is excellent. It’s different, but it’s the same song nonetheless, and in addition they could sure teach Yes a few things about dynamics and keeping the listener in glorious suspense. I guess in a nutshell all of that somewhat describes Glass Hammer. I could go on and on here. But I guess I’ll just say I’m a fan and leave it at that.

And it's not just that one song of course. They have tons of albums available, each one unique and interesting in its own right. It's always a treat to get a new one.

Which brings me to today. (Or maybe really to next month, but let’s ignore that for now.) They have a new album coming out next month, but they’ve just today released the video trailer/teaser/whatever above. The new album is called Perilous, and they’re calling it one song in 13 parts. If the trailer’s anything to go by it’s going to be an excellent album. 

In some ways I'm bummed that I can only talk about the band when I wish this could actually be an album review, but I guess I’ll have to wait a month just like everyone else. In the meantime I’ll just go throw on a few of their other albums and be quite happy, while at the same time hoping the murmurs I'm hearing about them doing an actual tour become reality.

Glass Hammer. They’re modern prog. 

You’re welcome.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Peter Gabriel - San Jacinto

This is about Peter Gabriel, and specifically about San Jacinto, but I have a brief story that might show what I mean more than just telling you would. When I was just barely 20 years old I saw the Jerry Garcia Band do a show at Stony Brook University. It was the winter of 1980, two weeks after my birthday. It was so long ago that I don’t really remember all that many details, but I totally remember the show. Things I don’t remember? Well, how I got to the show is one them. I suppose I took the Long Island Railroad out to the University. No recollection. Cold northeastern middle-of-February winter, with blowing icy winds? Probably, but not at all sure. I remember being cozy and warm inside the gym, but how did I manage to get those fourth row seats? No idea. I remember being there with my friend Larry from high school, who I haven’t seen in decades now. 

It was over 30 years ago, but I remember it as if it happened last Monday. We were up close, center section, on the aisle, right in front of where Jerry would play. But right across the aisle there was this exceedingly nervous guy. I love the Grateful Dead, but the guy across from me was practically in ecstasy. At the seats, at the atmosphere, at the anticipation of seeing Garcia play. But, almost like a mantra, all he could say to us, the people he came with, anyone who would listen, was that he hoped Jerry would play Sugaree. We had gotten there early, and he must have said a hundred times that he hoped Jerry would play Sugaree. Over and over, again and again, Sugaree. Must’ve been an hour, easy. By that time we *all* hoped he would play Sugaree. Because that was what the guy across the aisle came for, lived for, and probably even heard in his head all the time. It seemed like that one song drove him through his life, and I don’t at all mean that in any kind of bad way. For whatever reason, that song gave him meaning, filled him up, made him happy. And then the lights dimmed, and the crowd roared, and the band came out. And there was Jerry Garcia, right there in front of us, checking the tuning on his guitar one final time. And when he started to play the first few notes of that first song of the night, the guy across the aisle just closed his eyes, tilted his head back, and looked heavenward with a blissful smile on his face. And my friend and I looked at each other, and pronounced it good with a high five. Sugaree. First song.

And that’s me, going to see Peter Gabriel. I’m always waiting for San Jacinto. Goose bumps, every single time. I can’t even explain it. For whatever reason, that song just fills me up, gives me peace. Every time. 

So today Gabriel posted a newly restored version of San Jacinto, from the Us tour in 1993. Almost 20 years ago, but I can still see him crossing the river on his raft, breathing in front of the giant shadow screen, singing with arms raised high. Goose bumps. 

So yeah, this post isn’t quite about synthesizers the way most of them usually are. But the driving, pulsing Fairlight sequencers that start things off always get me. And it’s not about textured soundscapes that might shape a song, although Tony Levin’s haunting Chapmann Stick does indeed shake the arena (as it should). And it’s not about ethereal guitar tones complementing both the bass and the sequences as they lumber along, although watching David Rhodes stand motionless in the shadows while Gabriel sings his heart out seems to fit the song perfectly. 

It’s all of these things, all of them together. For me, San Jacinto is my Sugaree. Goose bumps every time. 

I’m seeing him at Jones Beach in September. 

I hope he plays my song.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Takla Makan - Timorianne
Listened to Timorianne for the first time today, the new album from Takla Makan (who in “real life” is Tony Allgood of Oakley Sound Systems, purveyors of fine analog synth modules). Totally loved it. And in some ways I can’t really say why. I mean, it’s not like music I end up making, and you could also say it’s been done before, and that there’s nothing really groundbreaking or new about it. And yes, that’s all sort of true. 


I guess the best way to say it is that there’s something about it, something that fires me up, catches my thoughts, and I guess that it just hits all the right spots. It’s simply good, and exactly what I like hearing. 

One could say it’s just like Tangerine Dream from days gone by. And yes, that’s somewhat fair. On the other hand, you could instead say it’s modern modular music, the sequencer music of today. So the tools are similar, but it’s just so good that it’s almost not even worth making the comparison. It’s as if Tangerine Dream abandoned this sort of thing long ago, and the Takla Makan records picked it up years later and continued the thought. And all I can really say about it is that it makes me very happy. 

Burbling sequencers, rich textures, shimmering pads, pounding drum machines, synth bass lines, even a 303ish phrase here and there, not to mention the occasional heavenly choir. It’s an exquisite blend of all those elements, done just right, totally replayable any number of times. Perfect for that long drive into the mountains late at night. Or for giving your morning subway ride into the office just the right amount of floating surrealism if you have a good set of headphones. 

Highly recommended. Synthesizer music at its finest.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Richard Lainhart, 1953 - 2011

Richard Lainhart died a week or so ago.

I didn’t really know him personally, but we did correspond a number of times. I wish I could have called him a friend, but it was more of a modern age electronic acquaintance rather than a true friendship. He used a photo I took at one of his shows (above) as a publicity shot, which made me pretty happy. 

In some ways I just have no idea what to write. I met him, I saw him play, his music is amazing (although nothing at all like I would play). He had a long a varied career, doing all sort of things that were surprising to me once I read about them.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that although I didn’t really know him, he somehow touched my life, and that I’ll miss him now that he’s gone. Not just his wild musical journeys with “non-traditional” synths played using “non-traditional” interfaces that he somehow managed to combine together into coherent and compelling musical pieces, but also things like his his famous bird cam, for instance.

When I saw him play live he had an incredible psychedelic background projected on the wall behind him. It was beautiful, mesmerizing, amazing. At the time I was very much interested in video projection, and searched for weeks for the clip he used. It was frustrating to not be able to find it, so finally I asked him where he got it. His answer? A very casual, “oh, I programmed that myself in After Effects.” 

Zing! Blew me away again.

That was Richard. I wish I’d gotten the chance to know him better.