PULL UP AN EASY CHAIR FOR SOME NICE RELAXING LOUNGE PROG (aka Shoegazing Away On a Thin Ice of A New Day)

4 May

18354-always-returning

So, here arriving at last is a sort of fade in, fade out series of blogs showcasing my favorite music heroes from the Kscope Music label, a certain record label out of London that signs up bands or artists who have a sort of progressive rock edge to them, but are not wholly committed to the real progressive rock genre as we generally know it. Especially when you have other mitigating influences such as alternative rock, thrash, death metal, folk, and world music expanding the palate of your musical repertoire.

I’ll eventually get to almost every band by dedicating a blog to each sub-genre they appeal to. This entry focuses on two particular similar sounding bands,  who both released stunning albums during 2014 that signified atom splitting growth in two separate directions than what they originally intended to do. The names of these band are the Engineers and North Atlantic Oscillation.

Next month as his North American tour approaches my area of Los Angeles, I will be contributing an entry on the solo career of Porcupine Tree and No Man, and this label’s founder, Steven Wilson.

As you probably gathered – I am a real sore butt hurt about this label. I try to grab each and every new release as they become available in the US – some releases you have to simply order through online distributors such as www.burningshed.com

From what I can gather, both The Engineers and North Atlantic Oscillation fall under the sub-genre: Shoegazing. Which is a interestingly curious moniker for a genre. Wikipedia defines it as this

Shoegazing (also known as shoegaze) is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged from the United Kingdom in the late 1980s, pioneered by bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Lush, Slowdive, Chapterhouse, and Ride. It lasted there until the mid-1990s, with a critical pinnacle reached from 1990–91 and a new zenith achieved again from resurgence in the early 2010s. The British music press—particularly NME and Melody Maker—named this style “shoegazing” because the musicians in these bands stood still during live performances in a detached, introspective, non-confrontational state, hence the idea that they were gazing at their shoes.The heavy use of effects pedals also contributed to the image of performers looking down at their feet during concerts.

My first exposure to both these shoegazing acts,(and I’d also like to count another band, Norwegian prog music duo Carptree lumped into this category as well).as with many of the Kscope family roster was through a CD sampler that was included with a UK imported magazine called Classic Rock  that opened up with a brand new Anathema song not heard from in nearly six years entitled Thin Air, (this is circa 2009). I think the sole reason I picked up that Classic Rock magazine was just for the sheer Anathema track having previously owned their 2004 album “Natural Disaster” released through their own independent label years previously. It was a big event at that time when Anathema signed with a blossoming label such as Kscope- as the only albums I had from the label were the latest The Pineapple Thief album “Tightly Wound” and Steven Wilson’s first solo album, “Insurgentes”. So naturally I’d be curious to hear what else this offspring spawn of the Snapper label had to unleash upon the unsuspecting “thirsty for adventure” music world.

With one CD player spin each of a sample track from both bands, The Byrds influenced “Hang Your Head” from the Engineers’ second release, Three Fact Fader, and NAO’s “Drawing Maps From Memories” from their debut album, and boy I was immediately hooked.

Disclaimer: as with my previous Yes Log entries, I supplement my biographical sections with Wikipedia text

Engineers are a British shoegazing/dream pop band. The band was formed in London in 2003 by bassist/guitarist/keyboardist Mark Peters, singer/guitarist Simon Phipps, bassist/guitarist Dan MacBean, and drummer Andrew Sweeney. After the release of their second album Three Fact Fader in 2009, MacBean and Sweeney left the band, and were replaced by bassist/vocalist Daniel Land, drummer Matthew Linley, and keyboardist Ulrich Schnauss. Phipps and Land would later leave the band before the release of 2014’s Always Returning. Engineers’ sound has been described as “hazy, ethereal, and atmospheric,” and the band often cites the works of The Beach Boys, Brian Eno, Cocteau Twins, Spiritualized, and Pink Floyd as influences.

Engineers were signed to the Echo Records label in 2004, and the band recorded and released their first single “Home”/”New Horizons” in April 2004; both songs were re-recorded for the band’s debut album the following year. The mini-album Folly arrived on 27 September 2004, preceded by the single “Come in Out of the Rain” a week prior. The mini-album also featured a cover of Tim Hardin‘s “If I Were a Carpenter“, and the original recording of “Forgiveness”. Their eponymous debut album followed in March 2005, preceded by the re-recorded Top 50 single “Forgiveness” in late February. The album’s second single was “Home”, which was released in June 2005 but failed to chart. In early 2010, “Home” became the theme song for the fourth season of the United States TV series Big Love, replacing “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys which ran from season one through three. That’s where I came in with my recognition of the group, having been following the HBO show, and wondering why in the hell was the theme music changed halfway through the show’s run. It took me a while to hunt down the debut album, as it wasn’t easily attainable as most of the K-Scope releases are these days. (the ones I haven’t been able to locate, the record stores I deal with don’t usually follow through with individual import orders from K-Scope. I’m usually told that the label charges too high when it comes to shipping product), but then it was on independent label, and it just happened by chance that some guy brought in a few promo copies to be dumped in the used section and I found one for $5.

Whilst in the process of mixing their follow-up album, the band split with Echo Records and their future became uncertain. After a period of silence, bassist/guitarist Mark Peters posted a message on the band’s official forum in February 2008 that the second album would be released digitally in the first half of the year, and that the band members had been working in various side-projects apart from Engineers. The digital release of the album never came to fruition. On 29 August 2008, Peters posted a new message stating that one of the tracks from the second album, titled “Sometimes I Realise”, had been remixed by DJ Sasha for inclusion on his album Invol2ver.

By 2009, the band signed with Snapper Music sub-label Kscope, and their second album Three Fact Fader was released on 6 July 2009. Again, as I previously stated a couple of paragraphs back, I wasn’t on the blood trail for this album until I went on a mad hunt for North Atlantic Oscillation’s debut album and stumbled upon it by accident while I was purchasing the NAO album, of which I promise to explain more fully in the second half of our program.

On 1 February 2010, it was announced that Dan McBean and Andrew Sweeney had left the band, with Peters noting, “No arguments or disagreements prompted anyone to leave, but when we got back together to play after Three Fact Fader was released it was clear we had all moved on personally and professionally.” Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Phipps and Peters would continue with a new line-up, and musicians Ulrich Schnauss, Daniel Land (of the band Daniel Land & The Modern Painters), and Matthew Linley (of the band Gilbert) were added to the official line-up.

Engineers’ third studio album, and first album with the new line-up, entitled In Praise of More, was released by Kscope on 27 September 2010.The album was largely written and recorded by Mark Peters, with assistance from Dave Potter and Ulrich Schnauss. Personally, this album isn’t really to my liking – not adventurous as the previously two efforts with the exception of two tracks, “To an Evergreen” and “Twenty Paces.”

On 2 June 2014, after a brief silence following selected live dates, the band announced their fourth studio album, Always Returning. The album is set for release on 11 August 2014, and is to be the band’s first release with just Peters, Schnauss and Linley as the core members of the group. Of the lineup change, Peters confirmed that “based on mutual agreement after a recent conversation, we decided that Simon (Phipps) would sit this one out. There are no plans to tour this album, so Daniel (Land) wasn’t needed either. As the band was essentially a solo project since 2009, no one has ‘left’ in the traditional sense – they’re just not on this album.”

NAO-news

North Atlantic Oscillation are a post-progressive rock and electronica band from Edinburgh, Scotland. They are signed to the Kscope record label and released their debut album Grappling Hooks on 22 March 2010. The band currently consists of Sam Healy (lead vocals, guitars, keyboards), Ben Martin (drums, programming) and Chris Howard (bass, bass synth, backing vocals).

The band was initially formed in 2005 by Healy, who had played in several bands previously, and Martin, who had moved from the English Midlands to Edinburgh to study. The duo later expanded to a three-piece when they added Bill Walsh to the live line-up. After Walsh left at the end of 2009 he was replaced by Howard, although Walsh still appears on-stage with the band from time to time on guitars and additional keyboards, and has produced several remixes for the band. The band are named after the North Atlantic Oscillation, a fluctuating change in the atmospheric pressure differential that exists between the Icelandic Low and Azores High.

In November 2009 the band released an EP titled Callsigns EP. As well as containing their own song “Cell Count”, it also featured a remix by Engineers (also signed to Kscope) and a cover of “I Only Have Eyes For You“, a song made popular by the American doo-wop group The Flamingos during the 1950s. During 2008, financed by Healy, the band recorded and mixed their debut album Grappling Hooks which was released on 22 March 2010 on the Kscope record label.It has received largely positive reviews from critics including the NME and Uncut magazine. Clash described the album as, “a near-criminal stockpile of beeps, buzzes and glitches generously sprayed over a spacious psychedelic rock canvas”. However, some critics offered negative views. This included Drowned in Sound who criticised the record for failing to, “hit the heights it aims for”. Nevertheless, during the week of its release it was featured as ‘Album of the Week’ on Zane Lowe‘s popular BBC Radio 1 evening show. Lowe himself described the music as, “super exciting new Rock n Roll for a new decade.

Their music has been compared to contemporary American bands such as Grandaddy and The Flaming Lips, Scottish bands such as The Beta Band, and 70s prog-rock band Pink Floyd. Their music combines elements of electronic beats with alt-rock guitars and “hazy vocals”.

In 2013 Healy released a solo album under the name ‘Sand‘, also on Kscope Music.(sadly, this is hard for me to find in my area.)

In August 2014, North Atlantic Oscillation announced their third studio album ‘The Third Day’. The album was released on 6 October 6, 2014 via Kscope Music.

Both acts in addition to helping out one another on their albums have also been strongly recommended by their label compatriot Steven Wilson. Both bands on occasions have also had the distinct pleasure of opening for Steven Wilson for and on any of his tours with Blackfield, Porcupine Tree, or his solo band, and Wilson usually contributes a bonus remix of a song or two for their EP singles.

Both new releases from these bands venture into the territory of intriguing sounding instrumentals “Innsbruck” on “Always Returning” and the trippy “Penrose” on “On the Third Day” (which I’m trying to ear train myself to nail down – it’s the best Tony Banks tricky sounding keyboard tribute in years).

As a bonus, I’d like to include a third band that could fit in this sort of niche. It’s a Swedish act that I’ve sort of lost contact with over the years, my last exposure to them being my long defunct myspace page (very popular for hosting the second version of this blog- if you’re lucky enough to find a trace of it on those long evaporated cyberlink vapor trails) – but they were influential to me in coming up with the phrase – “lounge prog”

Carptree_ManMadeMachine

Registered only as a duo, Carptree have a musical notoriety of keeping a very low-key presence in letting fans knowing when or where they’ll strike next either as a duo consisting of Carl Westholm on keyboards and Niclas Flinck on vocals OR being enhanced by studio musicians calling themselves the No Future Orchestra. Between the years of 2001 and 2010 they have released five studio albums, Carptree (2001), Superhero (2003), Man Made Machine (2005), Insekt (2007) and  Nymf (2010). It was with the third album, released through German label, Insideout Music that brought me to their attention. Upon first listening of the title track, my initial impression was right down to the core, that the heart of the piece is just a guy signing to another guy’s jazzy piano riffs. They could easily tour as an acoustic lounge act, singing and performing these plot enriched songs If you close your eyes and listen to opening track “Titans Clash Aggressively To Keep An Even Score” (yeah, that’s quite a mouthful for a song title) or even the closer track “This Is Home” would imagine fitting just as nicely on a David Bowie or Elton John record, with a few flourishes of Kate Bush sprinkled in between.

In a way, both Engineers and NAO sort of blazed a trail with this quirky stripped down quality. To them their sound is sometimes noisy with industrial and white noise influences, but their overall atmosphere is not too invasive. Deep down, between the two acts, they mostly operate as single entities – each a singular driving force masquerading as a group collective, Engineers has Mark Peters and NAO has Sam Healy as the core nexus dictating their basic skeleton ideas into a computer notepad until they get the opportunity to make them sound more larger than life in the studio and then later having to hire live musicians to perform it and bring it  humanly to the stage as possible to make it sound inhumanly as possible.

But I bet you both bands have the ability to rethink the performance as a acoustic lounge act – just one on a piano and finding a Bobby Darrin soundalike or a barber shop quartet mimicking its’ do wop Beach Boy backup harmonies and taking it to the cheap bars and coffeehouses as possible on just a single tank of gas – but only these days, real grand pianos aren’t cutting the mustard these days with all the sounds stored on a simple e-book or . Heck, it’s what I would’ve done if I had gotten permission to adapt Genesis’ Lamb Lies Down to Broadway to comic book form – take it out on the road with a female singer to perform the Lamia and Lilywhite Lilith with some simple knuckle dragging lounge lizard honky-tonk electric piano arrangement.

I can surely dream pop my life away, can’t I?

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