Friday, January 20, 2017

Tortoise's "Standards" and the Haze of Student Judgement

Tortoise’s It’s All Around You has proven to be a vivid snapshot of my somewhat hazy years in Carrollton. I added several Tortoise albums to my wishlist back then, but I never followed up with them, nor did I lose interest enough to remove them. They just sat there. Standards, which by several accounts is a critically praised album by Tortoise, was one of these albums destined to wishlist purgatory.

I recently stumbled across a used copy at Recycled Records on the Denton square, however, and it found its way into rotation at last. Standards precedes Its All Around You chronologically, and comes off as a bit less “prog” than its successor. What it lacks in epic scope, however, it trades for a more improvised, jammy feel. Standards allows me to imagine Tortoise as an alternate lineup for Frank Zappa's later iterations of the Mothers of Invention.

I had only spun the album a few times when I quite literally road-tested it. For the first year at my new position, I ended up being responsible for transporting a few middle school students to participate in the all-region band clinic and concert. We used an ISD truck for this purpose and as I logged the mileage, I noticed that there was a CD player in the dash. I just couldn’t help myself. I went back to my car and grabbed a couple of discs from the rotation stack. One of them happened to be Tortoise’s Standards.

On the drive, I gave the students chance to converse amongst themselves, at least at first. This only lasted a little while, though, and soon the silence became unbearably deafening. I gave my passengers some choices based on some very vague descriptions of the albums I grabbed. I described Tortoise as “weird jazz.”

Of course, I recognize that to describe Tortoise as a strictly jazz group is a bit of a stretch. What they do requires some kind of further description. Perhaps it would have been more fair to call them “jazz-rock.” Or more like “rock-jazz.” Or maybe “post-rock-jazz.” Hard to say. Traveling through these increasingly ridiculous labels would just obfuscate matters, so I indulged in the description in the spirit of making things simple for the average middle schooler. One student, who happened to be the High School director’s daughter, spoke up in favor of “the jazz.”

Knowing that she probably was expecting Miles Davis or Count Basie, I cautiously re-emphasized that “It’s weird!” and with a wry grin, I put it in.

And that’s when things really got awkward. At least for them.

If those first two minutes of drum outfreakage seemed long in the above clip, it was even more so with the palpable haze of my student's judgement hanging in the air.  Whatever.  After all, these were the best music students in the school, so they should be able to form some sort of informed opinion. That’s what I kept telling myself, anyway.  In truth, I was selfishly happy as a clam.

What is not readily apparent when listening to Tortoise on record, and what you can see above, is that all the band’s members are multi-instrumental wizards, often changing instruments in the middle of the song. Listening with that in mind, Tortoise presents a fascinating puzzle to be unraveled. A full concert would be something to behold, especially if you walked in with a good knowledge of the band's material.

In their defense, the students had no context or experience that might have given them a toehold on Standards. If they had an opinion, they did not let on. They remained silent for the remainder of the trip, although I sensed a lot of “WTF?” glances being exchanged in the back seat. It probably didn't help that the speakers in the truck made everything sound like it was underwater. Finally, one student broke the ice and made a somewhat snide comment about the cat-like sound qualities of the synth melody in Monica.

Just when it seemed like we could have a conversation about what is interesting about Tortoise in general and Standards specifically, we arrived at the clinic site. It was tempting to initiate a conversation about timbre and sound quality, but I thought that it might be better not to press my luck. We headed in for what would be a long weekend of band rehearsal.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Unique World of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's EARS

I don't know that I'll ever be able to exactly replace or recreate the experience of playing with world-music fusion group Ethnos. For a while, we had a regular gig at Marrakesh Mediterranean Grill, and I always looked forward to it. The food was outstanding and having a monthly performance encouraged us to keep being creative in fulfilling ways without totally losing touch with the public.

One of the last times I played with Ethnos, I picked up our flute player on the way to the gig. When he got in the car, he also jumped into Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s EARS album, which had been playing virtually nonstop for nearly a week and a half. Almost immediately, he picked up on its cerebral aspects, and after a very brief explanation on what attracted me to the album, we listened to the entire thing in complete, engaged silence.

I was pleased by his interest. My ears were unexpectedly primed for Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith when I discovered her. I had just revisited Jean-Michel Jarre’s Equinoxe, and I was still enjoying Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians as a 2015 favorite. EARS doesn’t resemble either of these works exactly, but it does exist in a kind of common ground between them. As an analog synth project, EARS is created out of the sounds that Jarre pioneered in those 70s recordings. Also like those recordings, Smith’s compositions evoke vivid, world-building environments. Her compositional style is radically different, however, due to the unique affordances of her instrument of choice, the Buchla Sound Canvas.

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a sucker for weird instruments, so this was a big sell. I am still unclear as to the technical nuances of the instrument, but the rippling, arpeggiated textures it creates are clearly a key component to EARS, and bring to mind the contemplative characteristics of Reich’s compositional techniques.

EARS is most readily identified as an electronic album, but it is actually a subtle combination of synths, voices, and woodwinds that straddles the distinction between improvisation and composition. It can hang on the edge of the awareness as background music, but it can also be engaging and immersive. In this latter regard, I find it to be surprisingly effective. Even with some tracks clocking in at ten minutes, Smith’s work has the capacity to take the listener on a journey that, once begun, is hard to stray from.

In the months following my discovery of EARS, I felt inspired to investigate other synth music in the hopes that Smith represented an underground genre of which I was unaware. None came close. EARS was, and is, far too unique. I still play it regularly and find it incredibly satisfying.

It would be quite a stretch to consider EARS “world” music, but when we stopped the car, Ethnos’ flute player immediately commented that the band should do something like it. Even though we did not have a synth player in the group, much less a Buchla, his ears were open enough to hear something that he thought that we could reinterpret. This was one of the reasons why I enjoyed playing with and the group so much. Getting to play with with people with that level of creativity and open-mindedness was a gift that I will always cherish.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Bowie's "Blackstar" and the Zeitgeist of Loss

A little over a year ago, the rumors surrounding the avant-garde New York musicians that Bowie had called on to be his studio band for his upcoming release gave me the sense that he was up to something. Curious and immobilized by holiday traffic in the Barton Creek Mall parking lot, I pushed play on the video for Blackstar when it appeared in my Facebook feed.  I was flabbergasted by what I heard.

This first “single” was a ten minute track beginning with sinister overtones, opening up into shimmering glam-rock and ending with a dark recapitulation. The track clearly suggested that Bowie was pushing himself into new terrain while maintaining a toe hold on his past, while the video's occult overtones had no precedent in his oeuvre of which I was aware.

The prog nut in me immediately took notice. At the time, of course, I did not have any idea what the impetus was for his new direction. A few weeks later, Blackstar was released to critical accolades, and two days after that, David Bowie succumbed to what was revealed to be a long battle with cancer. Then the release of Lazarus as a second “single” made his intentions uncomfortably clear.

On its own, Lazarus might rank among the best songs that Bowie has ever written, but the video, framed in the context of his recent passing, was a powerful, haunting curtain call that revealed in no uncertain terms the way that he was dealing with his imminent demise. It succeeded in bringing into sharp relief a sentiment that Tool only outlines. It blew me away.

I added Blackstar to the rotation shortly after it's release, but I admit, I was apprehensive about publicly forming an opinion.  I sidestepped the issue by writing around the album rather than about my first impressions.  I felt very strongly that as a reflective examination on mortality, Blackstar was, at the very least, an artfully framed statement, made even more compelling by the timing of its release

Then the move happened, and by March the Blackstar CD got put in a box of “current listening” albums that was to be the first that I opened when the opportunity arose, which ended up being November. I returned it to regular rotation and found that the album seemed even more relevant than ever. Bowie had inadvertently been the herald of a generation of entertainers, capturing a sense of nostalgia, longing, sadness, and ultimately, acceptance that reverberated throughout 2016.

Finally, on New Year’s eve, we had some family friends over, and it was suggested that we create a playlist representing all of the musicians that passed on throughout the year. With only a couple of hours left in the year, however, I decided that the task was too big to be completed to my satisfaction. My solution was to play Blackstar, because to me it captures the zeitgeist of loss that pervaded the entire year, and it seemed fitting to allow Bowie to have the last word. As the clock came close to midnight, the album’s final track seemed to carry more weight than usual.

I wish that I could say with some confidence that 2017 will be an improvement over 2016. To be realistic, though, our heroes are only human, and their time with us is precious and limited. There will be more to come, and social media standards will ensure that no passing will go unnoticed. Bowie, however, was honest enough to have the last word on his death, brave enough to share it, and smart enough to frame it in the art that was his life.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Dr. Spin's Best of 2016 part 2

Photo credit: Kate Wurtzel
I saw a meme a few weeks ago that posed the question “are you the same person now as you were at this time last year?” While I feel mostly confident that I am the same person, my world has changed so dramatically over the course of the year that the proposition doesn’t seem unrealistic. It is reasonable, however, to say that life now does not look the same as it did at the end of last year - to say the least.

I began this year as an Austinite, teaching band at a troubled middle school. By the end of February, however, the pace began to pick up. My second daughter EJ was born, I gave notice at my school, got a new job, went on a cruise, moved out of our house, lived out of a hotel, moved into a new house, and taught my first season of marching band while battling a plague of family illness. It's like life has been on fast-forward all year long.

Even though life looks different, I have to say that things are better than they were at the end of last year for me personally. I’m afraid that I can’t say the same for the state of the world. Trump’s election is distressing to say the least. I hope that he either surprises us, or is quickly impeached. More distressing, however, is the way that he has empowered the worst aspects of American society. I am up in arms as to how I'm going to proceed to teach my children to do the right thing, because I feel like that is in opposition to what they will be exposed to on a daily basis by the powers that be.

Of course, the easy answer is to teach love and understanding in the home. In practice, though, the pressure that we all have felt as my family forges a new chapter for themselves has sometimes made that difficult. It has been a tough year. It is my most fervent hope, however, that 2017 will represent a year of personal healing for everyone as they brace themselves for the coming storm.

Now you should press "play" and read on....

Last month, I announced a few changes in the methodology that I adopted to create this year’s “best-of” list. The basic guidelines, however, remain the same, and can be accessed here.

 15. Riverside - Love, Fear, and the Time Machine: This album came up with so many best-of 2015 prog-rock lists at the end of last year that I added it to at the outset of 2016. Throughout the year, its engaging melodic aspects and compelling performances kept it in rotation, while the unsettling death of guitarist Piotr GrudziƄski might be one of the less visible losses to the music world we suffered this year.

14. Field Music - Commontime: Once again, Field Music have successfully combined their impressive musicianship and outstanding performance skills with singable melodies. For the trained musician, there is much to enjoy on Commontime, but even my five-year-old daughter appreciates its more accessible aspects.

13. Frost* - Falling Satellites: The latest release from Frost* inhabits that fertile ground between prog and pop that, when done well, hits me where I live. Despite teetering on the edge of production-related sterility at times, the band’s energy and writing strengths kept Falling Satellites in rotation for months.

12. Weezer - Weezer [white]: Even if you're only a fan of the blue album, I would argue that there have always been great pockets of brilliance throughout Weezer’s entire catalog, even during their lowest points. This album, however, pulled me out of my moratorium on Weezer albums, and it fortunately represents an upward swing in their work.

11. The Lennon/Claypool Delirium - The Monolith of Phobos. This one took a while to grow on me, but thanks to Sean Lennon’s songwriting and arranging input, this psychedelic project to stands apart from Claypool’s work with Primus. It would be interesting to see this partnership develop into something even more ambitious.

10. Zweiton - Form. This album is wide-ranging, mathematically complex, continually engaging, and sometimes downright funky. After months of listening, I am still unraveling its compositional and technical nuances.

* there aren't any high quality tracks on YouTube from Form, so check out this one above from Zweiton's bandcamp page.

9. S U R V I V E - RR7349: Since discovering them a couple of years ago, S U R V I V E has evolved from a “band I like” into a genuine musical influence. The compositional strength of RR7349 and it’s vision of a digital future through an analog past continues to inspire me in ways that I hope to make real in 2017.

8. Kayo Dot - Plastic House at Base of Sky: This dense album took a while to unravel, but it really came to have a deep meaning for me after I wrote its freestanding post earlier this year. Plastic House at Base of Sky has a nostalgic aesthetic that I somewhat arbitrarily connected to the day we moved out of our little house on the hill, and now it seems bound to the complicated emotions I experienced that day.

7. David Bowie - Blackstar. It was around this time last year that it seemed like Bowie's choices of players on his new album indicated he was up to something. Little did I realize he was creating his own eulogy.

6. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - EARS: When I learned about Smith and her experimentation with the Buchla Music Easel, I put EARS in rotation and it stopped me in my tracks. Its unique combination of texture, composition, and improvisation kept it in constant, uninterrupted rotation for almost two weeks straight, and it continued to hold up under repeated listenings throughout the rest of the year.

5. Marillion - F.E.A.R.: I was somewhat hard on this album when it came out, but as I have gotten my ears around it I have come to appreciate it immensely. Hogarth’s Marillion has made several great albums, but by harnessing the countercultural angst that drove the group’s earliest incarnation, F.E.A.R. might be their defining statement.

4. Everything Everything - Get to Heaven: Like My Brightest Diamond last year, Get to Heaven ended up being a favorite that, if overall requested plays by family members were the primary factor, probably should be number one. It carries the weight of bands like Elbow with a nonchalance that recalls the Gorillaz.

3. Hans Zimmer - Interstellar OST: When I finally found my bluetooth speaker months after accidentally packing it, I had a hard time listening to anything besides the Interstellar OST when I was up for EJ’s late night feeding. Between this setting and the complex feelings the soundtrack evokes from the movie, I can’t think of another single album that represents those intimate experiences.

2. Anderson/Stolt - Invention of Knowledge: It's obvious to point at Jon Anderson's vocal prowess in this album’s success, but it has also been his tendency in recent years to wander from idea to idea without finishing any one thing. Invention of Knowledge stands up to Anderson’s best work, however, thanks to Stolt’s ability to arrange his ideas within larger compositions while he himself remains relatively transparent.

2016 Album of the Year

1. Bobgoblin - Love Lost for Blood Lust: It's satisfying to see that a countercultural 90s band with an Orwellian concept that seems straight out of 1984 could rise from the ashes and be so relevant today.  If the world were fair, Bobgoblin's distinctive brand of power pop would have already made them a household name, but this year's incredible Love Lost for Blood Lust has the potential to at least broaden their audience.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

In the Wake of Greatness: Emerson, Lake, and Powell

Undoubtedly, music aficionados have suffered some incredible losses this year. From David Bowie’s artfully framed struggle with cancer to the startling passing of Prince, it seems like a whole generation of musicians are beginning to reveal their mortality. Every single one of these musicians deserve mention, but earlier this year, I thought that it would be a shame if the particularly tragic passing of Keith Emerson was eclipsed by more visible artists. I began a commemorative post that I procrastinated finishing and, like an embarrassingly large percentage of my writing, I abandoned it past its relevance.

Then I recently woke to find that his former bandmate and prog-rock icon Greg Lake had also passed. It seemed more pertinent than ever to revise and complete the post, particularly since the underrated entry in ELP’s legacy that I have the most connection with sadly has no surviving members.

Don’t panic, Carl Palmer is still going strong, at least at the time of this writing (fingers crossed).

My introduction to ELP did not come through their classic work, although I came to appreciate it.  I was a member of the MTV generation, so I came to know 70s progressive rock giants like Yes and Genesis through the lens of their 80s reinventions.  Emerson also sought to bring ELP back into the spotlight during this time, but to make a long story short, Asia's success with Heat of the Moment kept drummer Carl Palmer engaged. Cozy Powell (who passed away in 1998 due to a car accident) found his way into the throne, creating an alternative lineup that created one album, simply titled Emerson, Lake, and Powell.

ELPo was cautiously welcomed into this cadre of reinvented prog-rockers, and I still have memories of the brief time Keith Emerson took his turn telling me that he “wanted his MTV,” usually followed by the album’s powerful single Touch and Go. Although Touch and Go did not garner the same attention as, say, Yes' Owner of a Lonely Heart, I purchased the album back then on tape, and it slid effortlessly into rotation on the heels of Rush's Power Windows.

Throughout the next decade and a half, I collected a good portion of ELP’s back catalog and mostly enjoyed it. There is a lot of devastatingly beautiful music to be found there. There are also a few eyeball-rolling moments, particularly in their efforts to arrange orchestral repertoire. Emerson, Lake, and Powell, however, closed with a version of Holst’s Mars, the Bringer of War that I would argue is the most successful transcription that ELP ever did (no matter which P you are referring to). It harnesses its energy and bombast of the original in a convincing rock setting without selling out the original piece.

No one who listens carefully can argue Emerson’s amazing prowess as a pianist and keyboard innovator. In recent years, however, his technique had begun to deteriorate due to an ongoing battle with carpal tunnel and nerve damage. Rumors also suggest that he suffered from depression, and was tragically unable to fully appreciate the inspiration that he brought to so many. He found it difficult to carry on, especially in the face on online criticism, making his suicide possibly the most heartbreaking loss this year.

Perhaps less heartbreaking, but no less tragic, was the recent news that Greg Lake had also passed after privately fighting cancer. In a very general sense, Lake’s role in ELP was to provide a folky, bardic counterbalance to Emerson’s bombast. The ballad Lay Down Your Guns is a tip of the hat to Lake's traditional role in the group, and although the song is not without merit, it probably isn't strong enough to represent the huge role that his distinctive musicianship has played in the history of progressive rock music.

While time may have revealed some low energy points on the album, I would argue that the stronger material on Emerson, Lake, and Powell represents some of the best prog-rock that the 80s had to offer.  It is unfortunate that, due to the technological limitations of the day, their brief existence remains relatively undocumented, short of a few low fidelity clips captured by a couple of fans brave and crafty enough to somehow sneak a bulky camcorder into the arena.

I wish I could have seen that.  I came close - I had a ticket for ELPo's show at the Erwin Center in 1986.  They unfortunately had to cancel due to a double-booking with ZZ Top, who was selling out arenas on their Afterburner tour.  The refunded money for the ticket did not come close to replacing the experience, which, in retrospect, would have been the only opportunity I would have had to see either Emerson or Lake.  They reformed, recorded, and performed with Carl Palmer on a limited basis in the decades to follow, but to my knowledge they never came back to Texas.

And, to be honest, I probably would not have traveled to see them.  I have a huge amount of respect for ELP and the innovative work that they did, but in the long run I ended up being a bigger fan of Wakeman than Emerson.  Still, when Emerson, Lake, and Powell was released it had an impact, and the music that came to the surface in its wake, like the rest of ELP's catalog, King Crimson's early work with Lake, and into Gustav Holst's orchestral masterpiece The Planets, was hugely influential in building the kind of musician I became.  I owe them quite a bit, and am sorry to see them go.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Dr. Spin' s Best of 2016 Part 1

I did things a little different in 2016 to prepare for this “best-of” list. I came back to quarterly roundups throughout the year, and they proved to be a valuable document of 2016 as well as a broader venue for writing. I still, however, wanted a quick and easy way to keep track of my listening habits throughout the year.  In January, I set up a document on my phone that allowed me to track the albums I was listening to as well as the number of times that I listened to each one. It was not my intention to use this file as the final say in my end-of-year list, of course, but only as a reference.  It provided some interesting data. For example, I retrospectively discovered that I began to “connect” with a given album at around six or seven listenings. No album with less than that many spins seemed familiar enough to be representative.  There were many that did not hold my attention for that long.

(Push play and read on)

In the end, however, this method actually made things harder, because great albums that might have slipped through the cracks in all of the immensely stressful changes my family and I have gone through this year were sometimes given new life in different settings.  It is for this reason, among others, that I have expanded my traditional year-end “top twenty” albums list to thirty. Not only was there a lot of really good music that went into my ears, so much of it was connected to the broad variety of experiences that marked 2016 that I simply could not get the list down to twenty in any satisfying way. I am, however, still presenting it in two parts, each with fifteen titles and, as always, I have not limited it to titles with a 2016 release date.

30. MuteMath – Vitals: Mutemath’s debut will forever stand in my memory for a variety of reasons, and the band has had to live up to that unfair standard in my mind since I stumbled across it. The glitterball pop polish of Vitals differentiates it enough from that release, however, to be accepted on its own merits, which are many.

29. Thee Oh Sees – Weird Exits: With a psychedelic approach that recalls early Pink Floyd and an aggression that rivals 90s punk revivalists, Thee Oh Sees capture the “punks taking acid” mission statement of the Flaming Lips early in their career. The difference, however, is an emphasis on atmosphere and blistering riffs over clever songwriting.

28. John Williams - Return of the Jedi OST: Tough call on this one, as it represents all of the outstanding contenders from the Star Wars franchise I have focused on throughout the year, which also included Attack of the Clones and The Force Awakens. Return of the Jedi,which ended up being P’s favorite movie this year, is the best of the bunch, although The Force Awakens wins out in terms of relevance and total plays.

27. Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution: Spalding’s foray into jazz-rock fusion is impressive and memorable. She is like Joni Mitchell and Jaco Pastorius all rolled up into one on this release.

26. The Africa Express – In C Mali: My interest in this recording was an extension of my experience with Music for 18 Musicians last year. It may not be quite as classic as that recording, but it certainly has its own merits and bears well under repeated listening.

25. Bon Iver – 22, One Million: There was quite a bit of critical attention on this album’s innovations upon its release. Overall, the album is engaging, but a lot of what critics are hailing as innovative reminds me of the work that James Blake was doing on his debut a couple of years ago.

24. Bombino – Azel: An infectious release from Nigerien guitarist Bombino. Although there is a sense of harmonic sameness that permeates the album, it’s impossible to resist Bombino’s enthusiastic guitar playing.

23. Syd Arthur Apricity: Syd Arthur’s newest release features a bit more streamlined approach than their previous efforts, recalling at times a more rhythmically complex Phoenix. While I am still deciding if this is a step forward for the group, the result is still way above what most bands are coming up with.

22. Mbongwana Star – From Kinsaha: I am a longtime fan of 70s African funk music, but I have connected with virtually nothing in terms of contemporary African pop. Mbongwana Star is a pretty interesting example of what is going on these days, at least in the Congo.

21. Run the Jewels – RTJ2: Rap and hip-hop doesn’t play a huge role in my current listening, but every now and then an album pokes its head up and grabs my attention. Sporadic listening throughout the year has revealed the impressive strengths of Run the Jewels 2.

20. Health – Death Magic: A standout release that lays the new romantic vocals of 80s synth pop bands like Erasure with the thick industrial aggression of the early 90s. Rumor has it that Health’s earlier releases veer towards noisier realms, and you can bet some of that will go through rotation in 2017.

19. Karate – Some Boots: Karate was a gem of a find that immediately grabbed my attention with their fantastic, relaxed musicianship.  I particularly appreciate the stripped-down format that gives them the feel of a jazz trio.

18. Zombi – Shape Shift: A fantastic drum-synth-bass trio with roots in b-horror movie soundtracks that took a while to grow on me. While I would like to hear a bit more melodic content, the band’s energy and structure definitely compensates.

17. The Daredevil Christopher Wright – The Nature of Things: Throughout the last few months, I have had an increasingly difficult time trying to succinctly describe this album. Combining folk, jazz, vaudeville, psychedelia, and a broad variety of other styles may objectively sound uneven, but The Daredevil Christopher Wright holds it all together with memorable, quirky songwriting and killer vocal harmonies.

16. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead: This album continued to slip though my fingers for weeks after I put it in rotation. Then, quietly, one afternoon it spoke to me, and I have not heard it the same way since.

Friday, November 25, 2016

In the Election Fallout: Marillion's F.E.A.R.

In my very first post for this year, I described what I saw as a disturbing undercurrent of our culture, one that thinks that flags flying at half mast mean nothing and that guns can solve the problem of people being shot. The perceived solution to this problem at the time was tighter gun controls, but I argued, and still do, that this only treats the symptom. Instead, I suggested the perhaps idealistic and radical idea of voluntarily surrendering firearms in solidarity with all the innocents that were shot and killed by people who saw the solution to their insecurities in a gun’s trigger. Predictably, this idea did not gain any footing. Months later in October, however, it was gratifying to find that F.E.A.R., Marillion’s most recent release, featured a song espousing a similar viewpoint.

As the year has progressed, however, it seems like the attitude towards guns and their use have become the least of our country’s issues. The devastating results of the election has given strength to what was once an undercurrent.

I was one of many that struggled with my vote during this cycle. I was a staunch advocate of Bernie Sanders, and I was distraught when he did not get the nomination. I looked very hard at Jill Stein. I connected with the Green platform, the even though I had reservations about her capacity to govern as president.  Given that Texas electoral votes have traditionally gone to the Republican party, I was convinced that I should cast my vote for Stein. Then a rumor emerged that Texas could turn blue. I could not, in all good conscience, sleep well at night knowing that I could have had any sway at all in a swing vote, so I decided to vote for Hillary.

Once I got used to the idea, it became clear to me that, despite having some blemishes in her career, Hillary was clearly the best available candidate. Her respectable experience and tenacity made it easier to get over my own feelings about Bernie’s treatments in the primaries, and in the end I was satisfied that I made the best decision for the country.

Clearly, however, things did not go my way. Not even close. Now, like many people I know, I have to wrestle with whether or not the America that my kids are pledging allegiance to every day reflects the values that I and my family hold dear.

Despite having an indelible impact on my teenage years, I have repeatedly described Marillion’s output as “spotty.” I tread warily when I hear they have a new release, but early reviews of F.E.A.R. hailed the album as a defining album of the Marillion’s later years. Although F.E.A.R. does not quite reach the consistent heights of Brave or Marbles, it contains many musically outstanding moments. Steve Rothery’s solos are crafted from simple motifs that blossom into expansive melodies that recall the slowhanded guitar work of David Gilmour while Mark Kelly’s ever-increasing proficiency with keyboard sound and patch design plays a key role. Ian Mosely and Peter Trawabas are more transparent in their contributions, but they are absolutely necessary to Marillion’s continued musical evolution.

The album shines, however, in its message and relevance, particularly in light of current events. It is a 21st century protest album that addresses contemporary power imbalances and the social symptoms we face as a result of living with them.  This is a heavy endeavor, and Fish’s legacy inevitably (and perhaps unfairly) draws attention to Marillion’s lyrics.  Hogarth, in concept and delivery, rises to the occasion.  F.E.A.R. carries the anger that recalls the countercultural mission statement of the band at their inception.  Although there is a tendency towards redundancy in the lyric structures, there is a possibility that this is intended to drive home the album's overall message.

Despite this imperfection, the album’s relevance is compelling. Its interesting that Marillion, a U.K. based band, began writing the album over a year ago and that it could be so meaningful today. I strongly relate to F.E.A.R. as a US citizen dealing with the fallout of Trump’s election, but the conditions that we are experiencing are global. I am not happy about the results, but I have lived through other administrations whose policies did not reflect my own. In those times, I have been able to shake my head, disagree, and move on. This time it is different because of the hateful closed-mindedness that it has empowered, and I am anxious about the impact that it will have on my kids.