Top 25 Records of 2013

There’s been a lot of great music this past year so it was tough to come up with a “best of list”. Instead, I wanted to put together a list of the albums that impacted me in some way, whether it be emotionally, professionally, or by sheer smack me in the face shockingly! These albums are not ranked in any particular order, but are rather listed by the categories I felt were most appropriate for them. So with further ado, here are the top 25 albums that got me through 2013:

Best Prog Metal:
1. Leprous – Coal – This band just seems to continue to reshape the way prog metal is going, and the direction they are taking the genre into is unbelievable.
2. Dream Theater – self-titled – DT continue to bang out solid releases, and this one is no different. They are the band that can never tire.
3. The Aurora Project – Selling the Aggression – I don’t know how many people know who these guys are, but they have such a seemlessly awesome blend of the dramatic and the heavy. Selling the Aggression hooks you in and makes you sing along while head banging.
4. Riverside – Shrines of New Generation Slaves – Going in a bluesier/70s rock vibe, this album grooves hard. I mean, how much funkier can you get than blues riffs in 7/8!

Best Prog Rock:
5. Steven Wilson – The Raven that Refused to Sing and other Stories – I only have one word to describe this record; sick. Ok two words; beautiful.
6. Spock’s Beard – Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep – Lineup change after lineup change and this band still delivers. I just can’t help but feel happy when I’m listening to this record.
7. Big Big Train – English Electric Part Two – Precisely where I wanted the part two to go. Prog rock = yum.

Best Instrumental:
8. Dawn of Midi – Dysnomia – I feel that everyone needs this record. It’s mesmerizing, it’s mind blowing, and to think that it’s all done live and through analog makes it that much cooler!
9. Levin Minnemann Rudess – Obviously this would be on my top list. You put my favorite bassist with my favorite keyboardist, and throw in one of my favorite drummers, well yeah, of course, I wasn’t expecting anything but face melting awesomeness.

Best Forget Your Troubles
10. Mutiny Within 2 – It’s just a solid record and every time I listen to it, I forget why I was ever in a bad mood to begin with.

Best Compilation/Derivitive Work:
11. Peter Gabriel – And I’ll Scratch Your’s – The anticipation of this album has been killing me for years. Finally it came out, and totally delivered.
12. Katatonia – Dethroned & Uncrowned – Semi-acoustic, minimal drums, and yet it remains just as heavy. Only Katatonia could pull something like this off.

Best EP:
13. The Pineapple Thief – Build a World – No matter the length, TPT always give you more bang for your buck. This EP does not let down.
14. Steven Wilson – Drive Home – And if Steven Wilson couldn’t do anymore, he does with this EP of brilliance.

Best Kind of Epic:
15. Tyr – Valkyrja – If you forgot to pick up your folk metal well this is the one for you. Crank it up and channel your inner viking.
16. Ayreon – The Theory of Everything – Hands down Ayreon’s best record to date from start to finish. Taking some time off is exactly what Arjen needed.

Best Forward Thinking:
17. Ulver – Messe – I never know what to expect from these guys, and I always love everything they put out. And it doesn’t matter how many times I play this record, I’m still hearing it as if for the first time. I couldn’t get sick of them if I tried!

Best Mash Up:
18. Wisdom of Crowds – How could Bruce Soord and Jonas Renske team up? And how could a record label provide these artists with the artistic juice to make it happen? Somehow the worlds of these two artists and KScope collided, and the result was a beautifully written and produced modern day alternative prog record.

Best Dramatic Monolgues:
19. Tarja – Colours in the Dark – Tarja as a solo artist keeps getting better and better. There is a consistency in this record that just makes it so operatically delicious and heavily rock.
20. Jon Oliva – Raise the Curtain – Like most people, I would love to see a Savatage reunion, BUT, despite that, the solo efforts of Jon Oliva is more than enough to settle for. Imagine a stage and broadway, imagine hard and precise guitars, and you’re listening to Raise the Curtain.

Best Concert
21. Anathema – Universal – In the last few years, Anathema have found a way to mesmerize and inspire me. When I think they’ve reached their peak, they surprise me again with something more outstanding, something more breath taking, and something more substantial. Universal is not only one of the best concerts that was fortunate enough to be filmed, it also makes you feel like you’re listening to an album of new music altogether.

Best Way to Relax:
22. Nosound – Afterthoughts – This record takes you out of your head and into a trance of comfort. Kinda like being gently dragged off on a bed of clouds.
23. Jordan Rudess – All that is Now – I’ve always found piano music to be soothing. Rudess impresses with technical ability and massages the mind.
24. The Flaming Lips – The Terror – Absolutely dark, but absolutely breath taking and meditative at the same time.

Best Way to Melt Your Face:
25. Sigur Ros – Kveikur – This album takes intensity to a new level. With an opening track that starts off industrial and the anticipation of angst, to the more classic, shoegaze hypnosis that Sigur Ros is known for, this album is the only way to achieve true face melting.

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Top 10 Inspirations of 2012

At the end of each year, I like to look back and reflect on all the things that have made an impact on both my artistic and personal growth. Some things just stay with you. They leave a mark; an impression that shapes a person’s thinking, emotional state, and creativity. The following list is what I feel has stayed with me throughout the year and has influenced and shaped the person I will be entering 2013:

1a. Albums of the Year: These are the albums that inspired my own music making, touched me emotionally, or I just keep going back to for reasons I have yet to understand. And in the spirit of all the 21/12 hype, here are my top 21 albums (in no particular order):
– Steve Hogarth/Richard Barbieri – Not the Weapon but the Hand
– Anathema – Weather Systems
– Storm Corrosion
– Mothlite – Dark Age
– Marillion – Sounds that Can’t be Made
– The Pineapple Thief – All the Wars
– Katatonia – Dead End Kings
– Gazpacho – March of Ghosts
– Enslaved – RIITIIR
– Devin Townsend – Epicloud
– Kamelot – Silverthorn
– Sonata Arctica – Stones Grow Her Name
– Arjen Lucassen – Lost in the New Real
– Coheed & Cambria – The Afterman: Ascension
– Between the Buried and Me – Parallax II: Future Sequence
– Ulver – Childhood’s End
– Threshold – March of Progress
– Flying Colors
– Borknagar – Urd
– Moonspell – Alpha Noir/Omega White
– Rush – Clockwork Angels

1b. Albums of Honorable Mention: These are the records that I either caught onto late or would totally recommend to anyone either wanting to get into a new band or trying to increase their collection.
– Big Big Train – English Electric pt 1
– Paradise Lost – Tragic Kingdon
– OSI – Fire Make Thunder
– My Dying Bride – A Map of all our Failures
– Mars Volta – Nocturniquete
– Omar Rodriguez Lopez – Kool Aid
– Ben Folds Five (in support of music therapy) – The Sound of the Life of the Mind

2. Concerts of the Year: These are the 5 concerts that reached me on all levels and all senses. These concerts symbolize art making in its truest form. They are the concerts that I’m STILL talking about:
– Marillion at The Paradise
– Steven Wilson at the Berklee Performance Center
– Dream Theater at the Orpheum
– Florence and the Machine at the Tweeter Center
– Trans Siberian Orchestra at the TD Garden

3. DVDs of the Year: These dvds go beyond a performance. They transcend the imaginable and integrate all art forms in order to execute it. Most importantly, these leave me with a disturbing yet beautiful chill down my spine:
– Steven Wilson – Get All You Deserve
– Ulver – The Norwegian National Opera

4. Oil pastels: Up until May, I had never touched an art material onto a canvas. I could never put what I see in my head onto a canvas and make it look like the “real” thing. And then I picked up an oil pastel, and with music in the background, allowed my hand to make dancelike gestures on the paper. Making abstract art and making art with no preconceived notion was an awakening for me on so many levels. I listen to music in color. I paint through the auditory sense. Painting has become another musical instrument in which I play, and has allowed me to let loose a little bit more in my own music making.

5. Classic Rock Presents Prog: I think I mention this magazine every year. I can’t help it. This is the ultimate source to new progressive music and therefore, the food in which I continue to feed on; emmersing myself completely into a world that never ceases to inspire me.

6. Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memorium of Benjamin Britten: There are not many songs that evoke such passion and feeling in me that I am brought to tears. This year as I have grown more interested in minimalist music, Pärt’s Memorium of Benjamin Britten created an experience unlike any in my life prior to listening. From it’s first note, I was stunned and frozen into an incredibly mindful state where all that was around and in front of me was the composition. As each note slowly climbed to the piece’s climax, I began to tear up and felt an unbelievable emotional state in its purest form. The feeling was not unbearable nor was it unmanageable, but instead was an intense sensation where time felt as if it had stopped for me. The feelings rose up inside me and left me tingling with a hauntingness that was not scary, but was instead beautiful and euphoric. The piece is incredibly sad and melancholy yet as it is a memorial that is paying tribute, it somehow turns its sadness into love and pride. This may be the only piece where I feel like my insides had been pulled out of me and stretched beyond the horizon.

7. Imaginal Psychology: So as most of you know, I’m a psych buff. And the idea of the active imagination is a subject that is beyond fascination to me. What was an intellectual interest became an artistic inspiration to me when I took a 4 day imaginal psych workshop. The one rule of this workshop was to leave any planning and preconceived ideas at the door, and to instead create art solely through the use of the imagination. If a voice of judgement or negative feeling emerged, the point of the work was to “stay with the image”; to sit with the discomfort and use the art as a guide into what was really being said and felt. Not only did I learn a lot about myself and of the things I continue to struggle with, but I learned how to better embrace the authenticity of art making. By seeing movement, art, music, and performance as a life force that is all connected, I understood that one can only be their most creative and true to oneself when they are using the art to channel them, not when they are channeling/judging the art.

8. The Kalimba – This has been my instrument of choice for moments what I’m wanting/needing to escape. While I continue to learn the conventional methods of guitar playing for the purposes of becoming better equipped to be a music therapist, the creative side of me has been needing a musical outlet in which I don’t feel confined to the conventional. The kalimba has become that instrument and has provided me with the much needed, cathartic release I’ve been missing in music lately. It’s a great instrument for improv. It’s surprisingly a fun instrument to experiment with (rest it on a snare drum or the body of an acoustic guitar and you’ve got instant effects pedals!), and it’s become for me to keep my creative juices flowing while giving myself a break at the same time.

9. Banjo – I’ve been really into the idea this year of integrating “Americana” instruments into progrock. Devin Townsend is a great influence for this, but it was hearing the use of banjo on Sonata Arctica’s “Stones Grow Her Name” album that really pulled me in. Adding banjo to the “Another Afterlife” sessions has just opened the doors for me even wider than I could have expected for this record.

10. Authentic Movement – Ok so movement is my least comfortable artistic modality, but this year I’ve become more comfortable with discomfort than I ever have been. And “authentic movement”, moving (dancing) the way the body wants to genuinely move as opposed to premeditating what moves you wish the body to make (or not make), has been a helpful guide in knowing bringing me closer to both my strengths and my weaknesses. This first appealed to me one day when I closed my eyes and felt my body swaying on its own. My knees bent in and my body swayed from left to right. Soon before I could decide how I wanted to move, my body did the work for me and kept my mind at ease. I felt surprisingly comfortable with the movement and began to better understand the flexibility I have in a life of mine that tends to feel too structured. And putting this technique to The Pineapple Thief’s “All the Wars” record put me more in touch with music and what a song means to me more so than solely listening to a song has ever produced for me before (well maybe not MORE in touch, but certainly on a different level). I can’t say I’m totally comfortable with this yet, but it has certainly been an important step for me moving forward into 2013.

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My Top 10 Inspirations of 2011

A lot of records, performances, and artists have found a way to absorb their energy into my whole, thus allowing me to grow. 2011 was a roller coaster of a year; changes in the band’s lineup, the evolution of my own relationship with music, and health problems toward the end of the year. Despite this seemingly long year, there have been some exceptional moments that have inspired me as both an artist and a person. Here are my top ten inspirations and influences of 2011:

10. Mt. Auburn and Forest Hills cemetaries – The photoshoots I’ve been doing this year in Mt. Auburn and Forest Hills cemetaries have not only been artistically inspiring, but have in some way without meaning to, brought me closer to existential beliefs I have often been afraid to look into. These experiences will certainly be finding there way into my lyrics.

9. Improvisation as a part of music practice – When I couldn’t sing, I felt a devastating blow to my ability to release my creativity and to express. As I am still experiencing problems with my throat, my music making process has developed an exercise of improvisation and sound experimentation that has allowed me to find other ways to express myself. Improvisation let’s go my neurosis in needing to control and be precise, and the lack of restricting oneself in improvisation has given me more musical freedom than I have ever felt before. In a way, bringing improv into my daily practicing routine has rejuventated the process…both on days I have and don’t have a voice.

8. Tai Chi and Deeping Breathing – This is really more of a change in the quality of my life than “inspiration”, but I feel it’s still relevant to include. As mentioned, having health problems this year, I have made the strongest efforts ever in my life to be healthier. A couple of areas where I’m noticing this change is in my active initiative to pursue activities to promote wellness. Tai chi, deep breathing, and muscle relaxation have been fundamental to me since starting in August. Though still battling against bad health, these exercises have increased my well being and have helped to keep me positive.

7. Lasse Hoile – The images of Lasse Hoile are the only visual pieces of art that move me on both an emotional and kinesthetic level. His art is transformative and trascending and push my own creativity every single day. To be able to create beauty within bone chilling fright is art that is absolutely breath taking.

6. The Recording Process – In the past, recording has always felt like a chore, the “work” one punches in to do in order to finish the art one has created. While working on “Another Afterlife”, however, something changed. The engineering and mixing process became artistic and instead of feeling like a slave to my studio, I became excited to experiment with sounds, tweaks, and mic placements, and have began to develop my own style of production. As I continue to grow, I’m thrilled to be doing it while working on this current record.

5. This Year’s Albums that have Created a Strong Emotional or Artistic Response (in no particular order) – Devin Townsend “Deconstruction” & “Ghost”, Ulver “Wars of the Roses”, Leprous “BiLateral”, Stream of Passion “Darker Days”, Florence + the Machine “Ceremonials”, Memories of Machines “Warm Winter”, Riverside “Memories in My Head EP”, Pallas “XXV”, Steven Wilson “Grace for Drowning” (particularly “Like Dust I Have Cleared from My Eye”, Cynic “Carbon-Based Anatomy EP”, Pure Reason Revolution “Hammer & Anvil”, Amorphis “The Beginning of Times”

4. Orchestral rearrangements (albums that came out this year that have been rearranged into orchestral works and have left a huge impact on me…again in no particular order) – Anathema “Falling Deeper”, My Dying Bride “Evinta”, Peter Gabriel “New Blood”

3. Dream Theater “A Dramatic Turn of Events” – This does not get its own category because I believe this record is better than any of the others mentioned above. It receives its own category because of how happy I was to see their return, and how much more enthusiastic they have become since Portnoy’s departure. “A Dramatic Turn of Events” may not have the same complexity as their greatest moment, “Scenes from a Memory”, but it has the same excitement and passion as “Images and Words” and “Awake”, and that is why I love this record (that and there are some awesome songs like “Outcry” and “Bridge Across the Sky”), because it is simply refreshing and inspiring to know that some times an unexpected change can bring out a breath of fresh air you didn’t realize still existed. A negative “upset” in prog turned out to be an exceptionally positive change.

2. Steven Wilson Live at the Berklee Performance Center – In all the concerts I have attended, none of them (including my first which is always memorable in and of itself) has left me tingling the way Wilson’s performance at Berklee did for me. Between the visuals provided by Lasse Hoile, the eerie, ecentric, and genuinely personal performance of Wilson himself that I’ve never seen him do, the display of musicianship as the concert created a dynamic range everywhere from full on metal to jazz to film and contemporary classical, and the in house surround sound mix, this concert brought me to tears on two ocasions (I’ve never cried at a show), and left my body in a shivering daze. The music soared into my bones, the performance left my eyes wide open, and by the end of two hours, I felt speechless and paralyzed. Not only was the experience stunning, it was a beautiful display of art that proved that art can still be thought provoking. This concert has challenged my own art in more ways than I could ever dream of.

1. The Movement Ensemble – Over the summer, I was fortunate enough to participate in a movement ensemble. As I played the same rhythmic drumming pattern for 65 minutes straight, with no pauses or changes in rhythm or pulse, I found myself creating the ground work to a story that was being “written” by 150 people. The story was told through movement, and what began as everyone telling their own improvised story, soon everyone was forming one story as a whole. While my beat entrained the participants, I found myself entrained by their own bodily movements and facial expression. By the time the 65 minutes had ended, I found myself on a high I had never experienced before. It was a transient, altered state of consciousness that only this experience could have provided. It was this moment where I found myself closer to music than ever before. I know there has always been a passion for music in me, but it is this where I felt the music and my blood had become one in the same.

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Opeth Lives without Death

The anticipation for Opeth’s new release, “Heritage”, was high. In fact, I had been salivating over it for at least a year. When the artwork was released and it had been stated by Akerfeldt in an interview with Classic Rock Presents Prog that the record was going to be everything that inspires him, a progression of what the band has been doing for so many years, yet nothing anyone would ever expect, I was immediately intrigued. And of course, still salivating. Bands like to say that a new record will not be what listeners expect, they have to afterall to get you to want to buy their record. But “Heritage” really proves to be what you won’t expect. And in the best way possible.

I first started listening to Opeth when “Damnation” was released. At the time, I wasn’t into growlly forms of metal. Knowing how technically great Opeth is, however, I was interested in hearing what they had to offer from an acoustic perspective. Loving the album immediately, I was upset I wouldn’t like their other music because I was too ignorant at the time to give screaming vocals a chance. Then I saw them perform with Dream Theater at Progressive Nation and it completely opened my eyes to that type of music. Opeth was nothing more than captivating and brilliant, and what was amazing for me was to hear Akerfeldt growl and be able to not only believe it and appreciate it, but also enjoy it. Since then I have acquired the entire Opeth catalog (as well as branching out into other death metal acts). So when I bought Heritage I thought “ok this is going to be Ghost Reveries and Watershed times 10 and I’m gonna be blown away with some new grooving, agressive, dark, progressive death metal!”

But this is the exact opposite of “Heritage”. The title track opens the record with the most beautiful start to a record than I can think of. It’s 2 minutes of soft, somber piano, similar in timbre and mood as Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”. This tells you right away that this record will indeed be different. My only wish is that tracks 1 and 2 blend into each oher, but just the same, “The Devil’s Orchard” and “I Feel the Dark” easily sound as if it is a cross between Deep Purple and Steven Wilson’s “Insurgentes” record. Clearly, Wilson’s mixing and production skills have a huge influence on this record. My favorite track, “Famine” which features the brilliant Alex Acuna on percussion and Bjorn J:son Lindh on flute, opens with grooving indian tabla and doumbec rhythms. The song stays calm up until the 5 minute mark where distorted guitars belt out. This is where the assumed death growls would take place if this were an earlier Opeth release, but instead you are swept away by a beautiful flute solo. So dynamic. So much contrast, and it totally works. Weakest track is “Marrow of the Earth” which closes out the album (unless you have the bonus material). The song starts off as sad, gorgeous, and reflective with twelve string guitar, but unfortunately climaxes in a cheesy way with some phase shifting and way too much flange for its own good on the drums. This is probably Akerfeldt’s hat off to ABBA, but it wasn’t something I couldn’t listen to without chuckling.

“Heritage” is not a metal record at all. It is straight up 70s prog rock. It is definitely the right direction for drummer, Martin Axenrot who I was not a fan of on Watershed (mainly because I was sad to see Martin Lopez go). It is produced very similarly to 70s recordings circa King Crimson, Deep Purple, and Rainbow. This is quite a drastic change for Opeth, but at the same time, there is still a familiarity to the music. The song structure, the clean vocal melodies, and guitar riffs are all still very Opeth. The writing is modern music set in the 70s. Anyone who loves Opeth’s death metal side should still be happy with this record and the direction they have gone in. They better because I don’t predict Opeth to be heading into death metal ever again now that they have sunk their teeth fully into prog rock.

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Dream Theater – Back with a Dramatic Turn of Events

Dream Theater is one of my favorite and most influential bands that has ever served a purpose for both my musical career and well-being. So it’s not surprising that despite an artistic slump in previous years, I have remained a loyal fan. And though I have enjoyed quite a number of tracks off of their last three albums, I felt their energy lacking as they yearned to achieve their goal of bringing prog to a more “mainstream” fanbase, and felt as if they were just going through the motions. And with Mike Portnoy being one of their main contributing writers, it makes sense that if he were to fall into a rut, it was only natural the rest of the band would follow. I worried their rut would continue and I would be disappointed at their attempts to create another masterpiece.

Portnoy’s departure, however, has brought a breath of fresh air to the Dream Thater style of progressive metal. “A Dramatic Turn of Events” is a solid, cohesive, collection of songs that make up an exceptional, return to their roots, record. Opening bombastically, “On the Backs of Angels”, shares similar characteristics of “Pull Me Under” (“Images & Words”), “A Change of Seasons”, and “The Great Debate” (“Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence”), but with the modern rock edge Dream Theater has become known to produce. “Build Me Up, Break Me Down” easily reminds me of what could’ve been a single off of James LaBrie’s “Static Impulse” record and immediately the thought comes to me, “it sure is great to hear these guys writing together again”. “Bridges in The Sky” gradually increases in epic, Kamelot-like intensity, and my favorite track “Outcry” has got some catchy Queen-like vocal melodies while hooks similar to Stream of Passion swirl through quick time changes that flow naturally throughout the song. “Far from Heaven” and “Beneath the Surface” are gorgeous songs, and maybe the best of Dream Theater’s softer side. Lastly, “Breaking all Illusions” takes all the good parts from “The Count of Tuscany” (“Black Clouds & Silver Linings”) and improves upon them.

Labrie’s vocals are beautifully recorded, and Myung’s bass returns to his melodic contributions from I&W and Awake, reminding me of how awesome a bassist he truly is. Mangini right now fits like a glove with tasteful playing where glimpses of his style are flashed throughout each song in subtle ways. I am already excited to hear what he will do with the band when he becomes a contributing writer in future albums to come. With exception to some production choices that are taking me a while to get used to, “A Dramatic Turn of Events” is an incredible, near perfect listen from start to finish.

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Imagination: The Wonders of Cendrillon as presented by MetroWest

Imagination. Enchantment. These are the words that come to mind as Massenet’s opera, Cendrillon, opens with a flourish of vibrant color from first violinists, Vanessa Castillo and Lauren Guadagnini. Castillo soars majestically through a series of arpeggios, and the orchestra, directed by Adam Boyles, transforms the reality of a Friday, April 28, 2011 night at the Weston Town Hall, and takes you to a magical, fairy tale land. Presented by MetroWest with the vision of their artistic director Dana Schnitzer with stage direction by David Gram, it was a pleasure to see this rare gem of Massenet’s.

Massenet is known for complex compositions with meter changes that expand beyond the alternating structure of three and four. It is his tempo changes that create the dynamic range of the opera with many moments of exasperated quarter note triplets that if not blended with long, sustained, whole notes, could feel almost jarring. That is what makes Cendrillon different from Massenet’s more widely known operas such as Manon or Werther. The MetroWest pit executed Massenet’s phrasing which is what pulled me into the emotional content of this fairy tale. Tension was created during moments of agitation and frustration through choppy, syncopated counterpoint, while slowed movements in six were used to create longing and despair. The moments that are in a straight four are few and far between, but when they arrive, they bring you back to a place of fantasy, joy, and wonder. Though Cendrillon is an opera with a witty sense of childlike humor, there are still many moments throughout where the music’s romantic ambiance pays homage to Massenet’s influences of Wagner. A balance of melody and beauty is certainly apparent throughout, particularly in Act III scenes four and five in the enchanted forest. It is here where the drawn out melodies and chemistry between Cendrillon and Prince Charming immediately make you think you are witnessing a beautiful scene in a Tchaikovsky ballet. The inclusion of a cello would’ve added more depth to the lost low end coming from the bass which was barely audible due to the partition that separated the pit from the audience, and with exception to a second violin that was out of tune and the timbre of an electric piano that caused more distraction than enchantment, Boyles’ orchestra achieved their goal of allowing my ears to take me away to imagination land.

The cast I was fortunate enough to see was certainly a powerhouse of singing talent. Katrina Holden as Cendrillon is a mesmerizing soprano that is impossible to ignore. Sara Bielanski as Madame de la Haltiére is another strong vocalist whose stage presence made it almost impossible to look away. Bielanski took command every time she reached center stage. Audrey Grieme as Prince Charming is an enthusiastic, dramatic singer, however, there were slight moments where I felt she had drifted out of character; perhaps focusing too much on her next note and not enough on her character’s next emotion. Kimberly Moller as La Fée could’ve been more delicate in her approach to playing a fairy godmother however, her trills and arpeggios were strong and flawless. Matthew Wright as Pandolfe is an exceptional vocalist, but I would’ve liked to have seen a more engaging performance. His phrasing was not completely articulate, and his demeanor as a father was more cold than loving. The humor of Cendrillon comes from the step sisters who were not the stereotyped “wicked” step sisters, but were instead portrayed as comedic and immature, conveying the age of awkward teenagers. Rosie Osser as Dorothée and Tamra Ryan as Noémie interpreted their characters in a playful, humorous manner. Their characters were animated and jovial, nervous and excited. I was impressed to not only see Osser and Ryan remain in character while running and jumping around the stage as curious, clumsy teenagers, but still manage to hit each note without any effort, especially considering the up beat, syncopated melodies they were challenged to sing.

The stage was set in minimalist fashion which was appropriate for allowing the music to transform the stage into a Paris kingdom. I particularly liked the subtle use of props where the frame of a Victorian wall mirror could easily be transformed into a throne. And the elegant use of a silk sheet was all that was needed to transform you from a home to an enchanted forest. The costume design was a little all over the place where contemporary fashion was infused with modern day “black tie” attire. La Fée and her fairies were dressed similarly to that of Athena, but Le Roi and Prince Charming were dressed in the stereotyped costume of a fairy tale king and prince. I understand the postmodern image that costume designer, Charles Neumann, was going for, but I would’ve preferred if the design had been more consistent in theme.

Cendrillon ends abruptly with an epilogue that quickly snaps the viewer back to reality. The Prince’s search for the owner of the glass slipper is rushed. More time is spent exploring the imagery of Prince Charming’s heart, which as a necklace has been given to Cendrillon. I found this to be more enthralling and is what gave this opera its romantic charm and ballet-like flow. Overall, MetroWest’s interpretation of Cendrillon was captivating and beautifully executed. In its fourth year of operation, I look forward to seeing how this company can grow even further.

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Radiohead – the prog rock debate

For quite some time, Radiohead has been given recognition as a progressive rock band. In fact, they even appear in the newest history of prog rock book, “Mountains come out of the Sky”. But are they really a prog rock band? Do they fit into the definition of progressive rock? And what has made them associated to the term in the first place?

I have always been a huge fan of Radiohead. Though a single that is terribly overplayed, Creep is a staple of 90s angst rock. The Bends is a beautifully written collection of well written songs. And then comes OK Computer, an album I can’t deny is not only influential to music but to my own. With its odd-time signatures and complex story telling, one may hear this record and regard it as progressive. But prog rock is more than complex beats and melodies. It’s more than lyrical concept, and it’s more than innovation. In some cases prog rock isn’t innovative at all but is still progressive. This is because prog rock is a specific style. It’s a stylized form of playing, singing, composition, and production that makes progressive rock progressive rock. Listen to anything from Yes, King Crimson, Genesis (circa Peter Gabriel), and Gentle Giant to early Marillion, Rush, Pallas, Pendragon, and IQ. Then listen to the more modern pioneers such as Dream Theater, Spock’s Beard, Porcupine Tree, Opeth, and Riverside. You will notice within every band though very different from each other, a similarity amongst them that brings each of these bands together. This similarity, this “sound” that immediately comes to mind when you think of the term prog is what makes these bands whether jazz heavy or metal heavy progressive rock bands. Can you think of this sound then think of Radiohead and say they are a progressive rock band? In my opinion, you can’t. It is this stylized sound that makes up some of the key ingredients to prog as a genre that Radiohead are not a part of.

The idea of this newly coined genre post-progressive or new progressive rock, however, is a genre that Radiohead have certainly helped to pioneer. Between Radiohead and Porcupine Tree’s style of songwriting and production, a new wave of music has reached the surface introducing bands that aren’t afraid to blend electronic, heavy metal, and acoustic rock into their music. Listen to Engineers, Oceansize, The Pineapple Thief, and Demians, and you can’t help but hear the hats off to Radiohead. These bands have taken the ideas and raw energetic playing that Radiohead was known for in the 90s, they have taken the electronic experimentalism that Radiohead moved forward with, and they have taken some of those classic progressive rock themes to create a “post-progressive” sound that trust me, you are either going to love or hate.

There has to be a distinction between prog and progressive. Prog gives you the belief of classic progressive rock whereas the term progressive simply means innovation and/or forward thinking. Radiohead has innovated for sure, which makes me consider them progressive, but they are not prog at all. In the end, you can sound progressive and not be prog.

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My top 10 inspirations of 2010

My top 10 inspirations of 2010. This is anything; music, art, the written word, a culture, anything that made a huge impact on me and my art in the past year.

10. Metal. My ears have honed in on this genre a lot in the past year, and have come across some exceptional records that have helped the natural progress of my songwriting (not to mention help let off some steam!). Bands that need mentioning include Leprous’ “Tall Poppy Syndrome” (actually came out in 2009), one of the coolest records I’ve ever listened to. There have been many times where it was hard to not listen to this cd. The throw back to a groove oriented 70s prog metal totally works and has given me a new approach to drumming. The Paradise Lost catalog is something I had to get into purely for the fact that they helped to define a genre that touches me so much; goth. Mutiny Within’s debut release was a fun modern metal-core record with some outstanding vocals. I can see these guys going far in the future. Speaking of modern metal, Soilwork have managed to sound more American than most American bands, it’s incredible. And even James Labrie jumped in on the modern metal band wagon with his finest solo record to date, “Static Impulse”. Kamelot’s “Poetry for the Poisoned” was their most cohesive album to date, and Therion’s “Sitra Ahra” evoked symphonic metal to a whole new level of opera metal. Enslaved’s “Axioma Ethica Odini” displayed a beautiful mix of Opeth-like melodies, extreme metal growling, and clean modern rock singing where the songwriting even bordered on indie rock. The live performances I saw from Karnivool, Orphaned Land, and TesseracT have proven that Metal is not just one genre alone, but a scene that encompasses many styles of artistic movement. Witnessing a scene of loyal fans from all over was an incredibly warm and sureal moment. I had almost forgotten that there is still a strong loyalty out there to music and the energy it creates.

9. Pineapple Thief – “Someone Here is Missing”. I always thought the Pineapple Thief was hit or miss until this release. It’s a great album from start to finish. One of the best things to come out of the Radiohead/Porcupine Tree inspired “new prog” or “post-progressive rock” movement; a movement that I hope will continue to grow and uniquely shift rock music into a new direction…honorable mentions in this genre from the past year include british bands North Atlantic Oscillation and Engineers, and french group Demians.

8. Classic Rock Presents Prog Magazine. I have learned of so many artists out there I would have never been exposed to if not for this magazine. They remind you of the early influences of prog from the 60s and 70s, and expose you to some of the most innovative and underground music that is out there today. This has truly been some addictive reading and listening.

7. Live dvd releases. What a great year for rock concert releases. Opeth’s “Live at the Royal Albert Hall” is a captivating release coming from a mind blowing band at a mind blowing venue. Opeth travels through their 20 year timeline of albums gorgeously on this live release. Also worth mentioning without a doubt is Amorphis’ “Forging the Land of Thousand Lakes”. I didn’t think Amorphis could put out anything better than “Skyforger”, but then this live cd/dvd comes out and I’m awestruck. A fantastic performance. Can’t wait for their new record in 2011.

6. Harold Edgarton, photographer. Although died in 1990, Edgarton, photographer, engineer, and inventor of the strobe light stroboscope captured my artistic attention when a collection of his works was exhibited at the DeCordova Museum in the fall of 2010. Visual art has not moved me the way his has, specificially the “antique gun firing”. I honestly stared at that photo for 20 minutes, and was left with an uneasiness I haven’t felt in a long time. This uneasiness was the feeling of inspiration, where all of a sudden you are swept away, your feet feel unbalanced, and your head is swirling around with a wanting to create.

5. Lunatic Soul. The second solo record from Riverside frontman, Mariusz Duda, this magnificant record is beautifully produced and beautifully written. Duda’s use of world music has taken Tool-inspired metal to a new level where melodic beauty without riff driven phrasing can still maintain a heavy, emotional attitude. The approach Duda takes to songwriting has taught me a lot.

4. Devin Townsend. So happy I started getting into him. Although “Addicted” and “Ki” came out in 2009, it wasn’t until last year when I started paying attention to the Devin Townsend Project and the rest of Townsend’s catalog along with his earlier work with Strapping Young Lad. Townsend’s Project is some of the best music I’ve heard all year. In addition to his songwriting and production style, Townsend’s personality has helped spark a new artistic direction of my own that’s not afraid to explore the more intimate and authentic sides of art. Townsend holds nothing back and is one of the few artists who I can honestly say is always 100% himself. His persona has become an inspiration to my art and my own approach to living my life.

3. Steven Wilson/Lasse Hoile – “Insurgentes” the movie. This is one of the most artistic, inspiring, and at times disturbing documenaries I’ve ever seen. I love how it is filmed in the dark brilliance of Hoile’s images as if it were a 2 hour music video of surrealism as well as a look into Wilson’s childhood, and his commentaries on technology and the downfall of art in the digital age. This is a masterpiece. I hope this film helps bring back some of the art that is lost in music and will help inspire the industry in seeing the importance of the album and not the single.

2. Music therapy. Where do I begin with this one. To sum things up, music therapy has changed my life. To look deeper into this, it is beyond a fascination with music and its healing power. It opens up a mind to be able to explore oneself, it unlocks those unwanted thoughts that we so try to hide from, it heals outside while digging into the inside, and it creates balance between the musical ear and the soul. Music as a therapy as helped me explore my inner desires to write more cohesive, honest lyrics. A tune with groove helps to keep me focused, a song with angst helps me to not internalize everyday stress, and a soothing melody has helped to induce sleep after a long day. It has indeed calmed the noise that was once so uncontrolling. And most importantly, it has pointed out to me just how in need I am of music 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is an art form that not only makes you a better artist, but a better person.

1. Anathema – “We’re Here because We’re Here” is definitely Anathema’s best record to date, and is in my opinion the best record of 2010 and maybe one of the best records I’ve ever listened to. It is musicially transcendant, lyrically captivating, and conceptually thought provoking. Each song flows like a ripple in a lake you can’t help but stare at until it is miles away only to be greeted by the next ripple. I can’t remember the last time I listened to a record that gave me chills. The music is an uplifting moment during a dark day. The lyrics are closure to anything that is uncertain. In my opinion, this album is the musical equivalent to Lao Tzu. Anathema have certainly come a long way in 20 years, and I wouldn’t have wanted to end this decade any other way.

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Live shows – do people still go to them?

The Middle East downstairs; one of Boston’s most prestigious small rock venues. This 575 maximum capacity venue is where such bands as Morphine got their start. It is home to The Gathering when they tour the US, and has the reputation of establishing a Boston rock band as being part of the “scene”.

I’m here on a Thursday night, the new Friday of Boston, and I’m lucky if I can count 30 people in the crowd. Here I am at 10:30, prime rocking out time and no one is here!  I’ve known for quite some time that the interest of going out to see live music has declined, but is seeing live music really that repulsive where people are just completely disinterested? Has music really become nothing more than a single in mp3 format that one listens to on shuffle at a party?

I find it hard to believe that live music is so boring no one wants to support local music anymore. As a musician I won’t accept that. But again, here I am at 10:30 with only 30 people in front of me as we all wait to see local band Neon Juju.

Sigh…I believe the rock scene is an internal feeling you feel in your blood, but its physical manifestation of a gig is clearly dying.  And here this whole time I never realized it was a fad.


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Pain of Salvation’s “Road Salt 1”


I have been a huge fan of POS since the release of “Remedy Lane”. Since that album, all I ever wanted was for them to tour the US and see them live.  That chance had finally come last summer when long time favorite of mine, Dream Theater, had asked them to be part of their Progressive Nation Tour.  I was finally going to see them live, or so I thought.  SPV, the finances behind Insideout Music had gone bankrupt like so many labels are continuing to do, and as a result, POS was unable to go on tour in the US.  If that wasn’t enough, it seemed their long awaited album was never going to come out due to multiple band member changes.

Things were finally starting to look positive for POS (their line up was complete and Century Media had picked up distribution), and “Road Salt One” was finally released.  When I first heard their EP prior to the release, “Linoleum”, I was a bit confused.  The production was incredibly raw and rough around the edges, and the songwriting was a lot more stripped down than previous records.  At first, I thought this was a result of low funds and no label, but it appears not so much.

“Road Salt One” is a drastic shift in the typical progressive metal sound that POS is known for.  If you want metal, you are not going to get it with this record.  My first reaction was, “I can’t believe what I’m hearing, this isn’t pain of salvation, this is an indie blues rock band”.  Don’t get me wrong, changing direction and writing differently is great, I’m all for it.  They succeeded in change when they incorporated gospel and folk with “Be” which I think is a fantastic concept album.  Still, however, I was disappointed with my first listen.  Sine then, I have listened to the record multiple times, and to be honest, the album has grown on me quite a bit.  A mix of blues, gospel, groove rock, carnival steam punk, folk, and classical, this record has a lot of diversity; it just doesn’t sound like the same band at all.  Part of this has to do with the production.  Though intentional, POS recorded this album live in one take in order to give listeners that old, raw, rock n roll sound from the 60s.  They succeeded in that of course, but without knowing about their intentions, it’s easy to mistake the recording as just simply a bad mix leaked off of the web.  If you can get past the recording, you can hear some good stuff. “Linoleum” and “Road Salt One” sound like stripped down versions of classic POS, and could even pass as a “Scarsick” b-side.  “Sisters” is a fantastic song, and production or lack of production, it is one of Daniel Gildenlow’s finest songs he’s written so far.  “Sleeping Under the Stars” might be POS’ most “progressive” and experimental song on the record, but unfortunately it doesn’t fit with the rest of the album’s content.  Other tracks worth mentioning include “No Way”, “Darkness of Mine”, and “Where it Hurts”.

Overall, I am no longer disappointed with this record, and enjoy it as an album that stands on its own.  Is it what I think of when I think of Pain of Salvation?  Not at all, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy this record.  I just can’t listen to this after “The Perfect Element” and go into it  with the same mindset.  “Road Salt Two” is expected to come out in May, 2011.  I’m assuming it will be in the same vain as this record, and I’m ok with that; just as long as their next record following gives me some good old fashioned, insanely complex, progressive metal POS style.

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