Summary of 2018 & plans for 2019

ProgInPark

Prog In Park III ticket

Musically, 2018 was another excellent year for me. I just did a short summary and it turns out I slightly beat my last year’s record of 40 albums added to wantlist. I prepared this chart that shows how this number changed during last five years:

Number of albums added to wantlist each year

I also wanted to include in the chart the number of albums I actually bought each ear, but because of some rearrangements in the discogs database (some releases got merged, other split and I have to re-add them to my collection) it’s difficult to extract exact numbers. But this year I added exactly 39 new albums to my collection so it follows closely the number of albums added to wantlist.

Among the 41 albums I picked for purchase this year, 27 were this year’s releases and 3 were from last year (2017). The remaining 11 albums were older but I discovered or re-discovered them just recently, in particular there is a full Elephant9 studio discography and some key Rush albums I loved for many years but somehow never bough physical copies.

Among the top live shows I attended this year, the most important one was Paradise Lost’s concert at Eleven Bike Fest in Wrocław. Seeing PL live was my dream for many years and I’m very happy I finally managed to accomplish this. As I expected, on stage these guys are absolutely amazing! Second very important event was Camel’s concert at Progresja Music Zone in Warsaw. This was my second Camel concert and another emotional tsunami.

Next year will start strong with two highly anticipated albums. On 25 of January a follow-up to “The Similitude of a Dream” will be released. The Neal Morse Band has set the bar really high for themselves, TSOAD was my second favorite album of 2016. The new album named “The Great Adventure” will also be a double-CD concept opus and I can’t wait to see if it will work as well as the previous one.

Second album, already mentioned by me in my previous post is Dream Theater’s “Distance Over Time” scheduled for release on 22 of February. I have no doubt this time the guys will return to their usual album structure so I don’t expect any grand concepts, which is a shame because this is what I like most in their music. Nevertheless this is my favorite band ever and they are in top form so my expectations are very high.

Last but not least are the upcoming live shows. There is actually just one I’m looking forward to at the moment, but what a great one! Third edition of Prog In Park will be extended to two days this year, and the two headliners are Dream Theater and Opeth. Who could ask for more? For me this is a must-see and I wasn’t very surprised to find this amazing looking ticked under Christmas tree yesterday. Thank you my dear wife, you are the best!

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Dream Theater 2018

Dream Theater

On my blog I usually I write about overlooked bands. This is in most part because I would like them to be recognized and their work to be appreciated the way I think it deserves to be. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t listen to more popular bands. On the contrary, in my collection you will find records that were sold in hundreds (or maybe less) as well as those sold in millions.

My favorite band since 2003 is Dream Theater, a real superstar amongst contemporary Progressive Rock bands. I’m a fanboy, there’s no denying. They are absolutely mind-blowing in every aspect, unmatched in the level of excitement and and joy I get from their music.

Being a fairly popular band they receive a lot of different feedback from their fans. Amongst one of the most often recurring opinions I encounter, either on the Internet or from people I meet, is that they were great during the first 15 years of their career (from their debut in 1988 to about 2003) but then became stale and self-repeating.

I completely disagree with this opinion! Dream Theater’s music is of impeccable quality throughout their entire career. This doesn’t mean that I like all their albums the same way, but overall they are as excellent as ever. I often wonder where these harmful opinions come from. I think that there might be two reasons for that.

First is that DT has a very stable sound. They don’t change their style over time as much as other bands, but that doesn’t mean that they are repeating themselves. Each new album has abundance of new ideas, approaches and unexpected connections. After all this is what Prog Rock is all about, right? So my idea is that first group of malcontents are people that don’t listen to a lot of music in general. These kind of people would say that they get tired of DT’s sound, because they have too little other types of music to “distract” them.

My answer to them is this: if you have enough of DT, listen to something else for a time and surely after couple of months or years you will want to go back. And surely there will be a new DT album waiting for you to discover, or some older album that you haven’t discovered yet. DT is the best, but that doesn’t mean you have to listen to it all the time. There are plenty of other great bands that can keep you busy. During these last 15 years I did many such iterations and each time I returned to DT I rediscovered the same truth: that they are simply the greatest band ever.

The second group of malcontents are people that in general think that ‘old times’ were much better than today. It’s a known phenomenon that people tend to see the past in brighter colors, forget the bad things and remember only the positive. And music is very strongly associated with places and events in our lives because it’s a perfect carrier of emotions. So it is obvious that a new album will not have such memories attached to it once it comes out. It needs time to grow. Once you realize that, it becomes easier to appreciate new music.

As a side note: my personal belief is that the music industry in general is not deteriorating as many people suggest but it becomes more polarized. Popular music becomes more and more mass-produced and washed from creativity while the community of people with more sophisticated tests separates itself from mainstream and thrives. I think this is how it has to be and I accept that. From my point of view there is more and more great music being released each year and I’m very optimistic about the future. I would like more people to switch to the light side of the Force and it’s always worth trying, but you won’t turn everyone.

Back to DT. Obviously in recent days I’m rediscovering them again, partially in preparation for their 14th studio album “Distance Over Time” that is scheduled for release on 22nd of February 2019. This is a very exciting time especially that their last double album “The Astonishing” completely blew me away.

To me “The Astonishing” is, by far, the best pieces of music ever created, period. And these guys, they created it after nearly 30 years of being on stage when almost everyone say that their best days are long gone. Currently this album has an average rating on progarchives of 3.41 out of 5, much below their average and I just can’t possibly understand why.

As a way to unload my frustration I decided create this subjective list of top 10 DT albums. Maybe for someone this will be a nice relief from all the endless complains about where the best band on earth is heading.

Album Year Score (0 to 10)
The Astonishing 2016 11
Metropolis Part 2 – Scenes From A Memory 1999 10
Images And Words 1992 9.5
Train Of Thought 2003 9.5
When Dream And Day Unite 1989 9
Awake 1994 9
Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence 2002 9
A Dramatic Turn Of Events 2011 9
Dream Theater 2013 9
Systematic Chaos 2007 8.5

 

 

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Infernal Metallia

infernal_metallia

In 2008 Jannick Top sent a shock wave through progressive rock community with the release of Infernal Machina. The sound that he created on that album was absolutely unique, a fascinating collision of zeuhl, metal and primal screams. Now after ten years I found the same formula rediscovered and applied, again with astonishing result, by OH. (Olivia Hadjiioannou) in her new album Metallia.

Infernal Machina is not an easy listen. On the contrary, I would say it is one of the most, if not the most, demanding album in my collection. Even on the best of days I can withstand only about 80 percent of it, when I’m not in mood I give up somewhere after fifteen minutes of an hour long recording. Yet probably this is the same feature that makes it so memorable. The frantic repetitiveness combined with slow but steady falling into madness is a trademark of Infernal Machina. In this regard, this is one of the most extreme albums I own, right on the edge of being inaccessible, yet somehow always an enjoyable experience. There are couple of themes that are introduced throughout the album, each dominated by one instrument (screams count as an instrument here as well). Later these themes are merged together, one by one, as their intensity rises. By the end of the main section of the album (excluding Resolutio, which is a separate being), we have a fully constructed ‘metal zeuhl’ sound.

For many years I haven’t heard anything quite like it, until I heard Metallia. The heavy, frantic mood meets us from the first moments of track one, the Red Lion. It’s like jumping right into the climax of Infernal Machina, without warning. Olivia spares us the tedious process of building the sound, instead she explores the possibilities that it offers. In some way it feels like continuation of Jannick’s opus, a next chapter of the story. I did not find any indication that OH. was influences or indeed that she was even aware of Jannick’s work, but I would be very surprised if she wasn’t (although it’s not very uncommon for two composers to come up with similar ideas independently, a notable example is Henry Cow and Thinking Plague).

Either way, Metallia is a brilliant piece of music and even if it was inspired by some zeuhl classic it is only for the better. It offers six very intense and intricate compositions. Mercifully they don’t exhibit so much repetitiveness which is a great relief. There is just enough momentum in the evolution of each track to keep you interested and entertained. Each piece is different and explores a new idea, but they all share the same heavy sound I like so much on Infernal Machina. But of course it’s not identical, much more emphasis was put on the electric guitar at the expense of rhythm section which pust it a bit further away from zeul genre. The screams however, they are so much like on IM it’s uncanny.

Unfortunately the album is very short, much under thirty minutes. I personally like short albums, especially if they are demanding, but this one feels more like an EP than full album. I’d love to see one or two more tracks there. Other than that I have absolutely no complains, a flawless release and a great pleasure from first listen and it’s still getting better with every next one. I wish there were more such forward-thinking and adventurous composers out there. Hopefully OH. will inspire some!

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Mining for great music

dwarf_miner

I find it very difficult to communicate to other people why I like music as much as I do. But the fact is that it is my great passion and over the years I have worked out my way to enjoy it to the maximum. The key element for me was finding the perfect balance between exploration and exploitation. This article is a brief description of a typical life cycle of a music peace in my musical universe. I hope that by learning it, you can get an idea of what music means to me and what it has to do with a dwarf miner.

Mining for gems is a very good analogy to how I work with music. Most of the time that I spent on this hobby is devoted to research, which is the most basic, sometimes tedious but also most important activity. Without research, there would be no ‘material’ to work with and soon the flame of passion would start to dwindle. My sonic ecosystem needs to be fed with fresh material and there is no easy way of getting it.

Researching is difficult because I always have to reinvent it. Like in the recently popular term ‘informational bubble’, if I stick to the same sources of information for too long, I will not be truly creative in terms of finding new exciting bands, albums and extending my horizons. So of course I have my favorite places where I look for new music, but I know I cannot limit myself to them otherwise my preferences will become a plain copy of someone else’s. In many ways, I think crafting you musical taste is as creative and demanding as creating music itself.

Therefore I spend most of my spare time on looking for and listening to new stuff. And most often, as you probably imagine, I’m not very thrilled about what I hear. Only about 1 out of 10 albums I listen to eventually stay with me. Sometimes it takes just couple of minutes, sometimes three or four listens before I know how I feel about them. The decision is always binary: gem or not a gem. In most cases it is not very difficult to tell them apart. But when it does, I’m using a scoring protocol. Each track of an album (or section of a long track) gets a score between 0 and 10 where 0 means total rubbish and 10 – a masterpiece. Scores are then averaged over entire album. If the final result if greater or equal to 7.5, I have found a new gem.

You might already noticed that my evaluation is focused on entire albums. Indeed, for me an album is the basic unit and I treat it as a whole, as a complete work. If there are two or three brilliant tracks on a ten-track album, it will not lay my ears on it for too long. I think this is another manifestation of my deep love for music, the fact that I look for full immersion into the world created by composer and musicians. This is something that cannot be done in few short minutes, at least not to the extent I anticipate.

But why going through all this trouble, why is it so important to distinguish great albums from the ones that are only good? Because great albums eventually become part of my collection, and my collection is the center element of my sonic universe. My subjective feeling about the quality of music, the fact that I consider it exceptional or not is the only factor that decides whether an album will become part of it or not. I never buy albums to complete discography of an artist, even if I lack only one piece but it doesn’t meet my standards, I will not buy it. In my world, including an album in my collection is greatest acknowledgement of an artist and he’s creation.

The physical aspect of this process, the fact that I own over three hundred CDs, many of them quite rare and imported from furthest reaches of the Earth is not that important. Of course I am fond of them and I like the fact that I can look at them, play them and show them to my family and friends. But most of all, my CD collection is something that introduces order to my musical journey, a definite milestone in album’s life cycle that allows me to close one chapter and start another. When I decide to add a recording to my collection, I buy it and I listen to it for some time (first three listens are recorded in my private database) but when the excitement fades I know I have to move on and look for new inspiration. But it also stays with me and becomes a record, a journal of my ongoing adventure with associated memories of times, people and places.

Of course it all works in cycles. At any given time I have more or fewer albums at different stages in the ‘pipeline’. Some albums are newly found and wait for their turn for initial listenings, others are already in the process of being listened to. Those that made it wait for being purchased, others are already purchased and are being delivered. There are some that are already on my shelf and wait for their first listen after purchase, which is a second very special moment on their journey. But the first and most exciting moment is always when I decide to add album to my collection. It’s like an injection of fresh air to my bloodstream. A confirmation that I’m still enjoying music and that great music is still being made somewhere.

All in all, I estimate that I spent about 75% of my time devoted to music on the exploration phase, that is the part when I red about music and listen to it before making decision about purchase. Only 25% is exploitation when I sit back and simply enjoy music I own. How does that compare to how other people do it? I’m very curious about that. My feeling is that most people spent much less time on research if any at all. But for me it is the essence of the whole venture and something that distinguishes true music enthusiasts from occasional listeners.

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Let’s get physical: why CD is better than file

cd-shopping-1515804

According to most forecasts from ten years ago, physical music media such as CDs and vinyls should be a relict of the past by now. Yet, despite the whole digital revolution, they are doing remarkably well in my opinion. That’s good news for me because I’m enthusiastic about my growing collection of CDs and I can still get vast majority of what I’m interested in on a shiny plastic disc. I guess people have different reasons why they buy them. Today I want to tell you about one major reason why I do so.

I don’t have anything against files or streaming services. In fact, as soon as I get a CD album I immediately rip it to FLAC files and form now on I mostly listen to these files. So why to bother with the disc when I can get the same content from Internet in seconds, not to bother about finding a local store or waiting for a parcel? No, it’s not about the nice booklet and CD print, although they are a nice addition. Most importantly, with this piece of plastic comes a set of rights you don’t get with any digital service.

In a nutshell, when you buy a digital file, what you really get is right to make copies of that file and to play it, nothing more. What is important is that you can’t transfer this right to anyone else, not temporarily nor permanently. Physical media, on the other hand, is something to which you have full rights that come with ownership: you can borrow it, sell it, play it, do whatever you please (except maybe for playing it to the audience). Most importantly, in case of selling, you transfer all these rights to new owner, just like with any other thing like a car or a TV set.

I like to look at it from the standpoint of value. When you buy a file, obviously it has value to you, because you can use it (play it). But to everyone else, this file presents 0 value, basically no one else can do anything legal with it. But when you buy a CD for, let’s say, 10$ it is still worth 10$ to anyone else (minus potential wear of course). And yet, digital albums cost almost exactly the same as regular physical releases. With physical media, you get full rights at no additional cost. Moreover, you can always make a file of that media and store it somewhere safe, so you also have all the benefits of a file.

How does that work in practice, why should you care? Recently I made some interesting observation on my Discogs account. Currently, my collection of CDs, small as it is, is worth an average of 12$ per CD. That’s roughly equal to the average price of new CDs I buy! The price for each CD was calculated as median price of CDs of the same release in the same condition as mine that were sold on Discogs. Of course disproportions are quite big: some CD are “worth” as little as 2$ – 3$ but some actually gained on value in time (mostly due to they limited availability).

So, If today I decided I’m no longer interested in the whole music thing, I should be able to get back most of what I invested. I’m basically listening to music for free! This will probably vary depending on what genres you prefer and how you handle and store your media, and of course it takes extra space in your home and is a bit more time-consuming. But if you’re a music enthusiast like me, you probably won’t mind it at all.

To sum it all up, even though it’s 2017 and so many goods are now purely virtual, I see absolutely no reason why I should resign from buying music on physical media. It’s probably a matter of commitment: for a casual listener, file is probably good enough. But at some point, when you buy enough music, I think it’s just economically wise to go physical.

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Wrupk Urei – Kõik Saab Korda

Wrupk Urei - Kõik Saab KordaWelcome back after this longer-than-usual brake. I’ve spent this time taking a major turn in my professional career. Luckily that didn’t impact my music research, unfortunately it did impact my other activities, blogging included. Now that the storm is over, I come back to tell you about all the great music I’ve discovered during that period. Ready? Lets start with this fresh, or should I say freshly reheated, treat from Estonia. Continue reading

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Pienza Ethnorkestra – Indiens d’Europe

Pienza Ethnorkestra - Indiens d'EuropeLet’s start with hurdy gurdy. It’s a medieval music instrument that is basically made of a lyre, a crank and some buttons. You might occasionally find it in museums and even less frequently used by quaint artists. I have learned about it just recently and although I know that in other circumstances it wouldn’t make much of an impression, in skilful hands of Thierry Bruneau it has blown me away.

Continue reading

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