Late June is a strange time for music releases. The supposed “Summer Jam” song has been predetermined, usually well before summer begins, so we are resigned to Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” as the crowned queen of 2014 as early as June. Other songs come up to challenge, but the corporate mind has been made up.
In the meantime, other releases wait at the starting blocks of early fall to make inroads to the all-important sales bracket of the Fourth Quarter. Here is where you’ll see a lot releases that would contend for holiday gifts and such. Between these two periods, a few notable albums come out with minimal acclaim or even a mention.
One that probably ought to get you stirred up is the release of A Sunday Night Above The Rain from Marillion. As is their fashion of the past ten years, a studio release is followed by a live release, sometimes two, and that’s what we have with this release. And yet, this one comes off the back of one of the band’s strongest studio efforts ever, the remarkable Sounds That Can’t Be Made. The majority of this two disc release is taken up by concert performance’s of that album’s songs, including the powerhouse, tragically timely “Gaza”. And while each of that studio recording’s songs get done here, there are spaces for fan favorites like “Neverland”, “The King Of Sunset Town”, and a holdover from the Fish-era, “Garden Party”.
Another rock/prog band that has returned to the scene is Saga. Sagacity (get it?) finds the group in surprisingly good form. I say surprisingly because I was specifically negative toward their previous effort 20/20, their first with returning vocalist Michael Sadler. While I’m certain that none of my criticisms impacted change in any way (I’m not that egotistical), I will say that Sagacity finds the group moving more in the direction I had hoped they would. Reclaiming the sound and visual iconography of their more overt prog-laced efforts from the early 2000’s, including on the cover the insect-like alien creature that characterized most of them, the band still retains the harder rock sound of 20/20, but there seems to be more purpose to it this time. Whereas the previous record seemed to want to have hit songs, using a musical expression that doesn’t have hits anymore, Sagacity seems more comfortable in its stylistic skin. It may not be on the same level as their remarkable calling card Network, but it is fair to say it is closer to the mark, blessedly.
A couple of interesting classic-style pop records are also making the rounds. The Click Beetles’ Wake Up To Music! positions itself comfortably in the subgenre with a large dose of originals written by one-man-band-member Dan Pavelich, a co-write with Lisa Mychols on “I Never Said Goodbye”, and two choice covers: Marshall Crenshaw’s “Cynical Girl” and The Beatles’ “Do You Want To Know A Secret”. You can find Wake Up To Music! at the Click Beetles page on CD Baby.
Another pop-oriented disc comes from Bubble Gum Orchestra, the project name for writer/musician Michael Laine Hildebrandt. His fourth effort, Beyond Time, continues his exploration of Jeff Lynne/ELO’s composition and recording style, with this taking its cues from the Time album. Like that, Beyond Time takes a slightly cheeky look at the distancing effect of modernization, the good and the bad that come from technology, and the assertion that love and understanding are still best when applied on a human level and not via an Internet blog or an emoticon. Hildebrandt’s adoration of ELO is earnest and that comes through on the recording, but I suspect his next recording will be something quite different and much more personal. You can hear that occurring on Beyond Time, as if he’s sort of giving a nod to his influences but is ready to walk out on his own. If this is the case, then Hildebrandt’s next phase is going to be quite interesting to witness. You can find out more about Beyond Time at the Bubble Gum Orchestra home page.
Finally, in reissue land, Alucard Records through Caroline Distribution has begun a campaign of remixes and remasters of the Gentle Giant catalog, featuring a fancy 5.1 surround mix by Steven Wilson for the first entry, The Power and the Glory. Gentle Giant has always been one of those bands you either got or you didn’t, and I have to say I didn’t. Like Van Der Graaf Generator, their music can be cold, somewhat distancing, and challenging. Neither present those immediate entryways to pop/rock identification…you take them on their own terms or not at all.
That said, the two-disc version of The Power and the Glory pulls out all the stops. The mix is crisp and clean without being so bleached out digitally that you feel you’re listening to a digital transfer. The second disc (as either a DVD or hi-res Blu-ray) features animated segments to accompany the surround sound audio. Most releases of this type just have a title card, maybe the lyrics, and possibly the occasional promotional photograph. I wouldn’t rush out for the animations solely, however, as they’re not too engaging (and they’re not really meant to be either). Mostly they are abstractions; something to look at but not be distracted by, while listening to the songs.
I was hoping that the release would have turned me around to the band’s music. They have a lot of releases out and part of me wonders why, giving my inclinations toward prog, it never connected with me. Sadly it remains as such with me, but if you are a Gentle Giant fan, you will probably be very happy with this one. Like Wilson’s other remixes for XTC, Yes, ELP, and Jethro Tull, these older analog tapes have been treated with great care and deferential treatment. The audio is cleaned up to be the best that it is, and not something it isn’t, like brand new. That is a quality other reissue producers would do well to emulate.