One of the most interesting and annoying things in the world are those micro-genres of music that are incredibly hard to describe but you just know them when you hear them. There isn’t necessarily a lot that’s inherently in common between artists in this scene; if you played it to someone who only knew the music, they wouldn’t get it. But when you add up history, aesthetics, lyrics, when you show them to an insider how is sensitive to their type of presentation, the links between the seemingly disparate artists are painfully clear to them. Painful because it’s impossible to communicate what those links consist of to those hypothetical laymen and no one seems to “get you”. Just as an example, think of Leprous, Agent Fresco, and VOLA. If you just listen to the music there are certainly similarities but it’s weird to put them in the same space. But take into consideration their aesthetics, their history of playing shows together, and their fans, and you suddenly get an inexplicable connection in your head.
One of those micro-genres, for me, is the group of artists heavily influenced by Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson‘s solo works. They make a kind progressive rock with tinges of metal and alternative that make it a bit darker; gone are the exultations of nature or of psychedelic states of mind which informed so much of classic progressive rock and in their stead, there are urban detritus, melancholy, violence, and more. We could name a few of the bands in this micro-genre: The Pineapple Thief and Bruce Soord, in general, are natural candidates, as are Nosound or The Dark Third. They all have that kind of darker, somber approach to progressive rock that saw its genesis in Porcupine Tree’s middle era and has since become a staple of the progressive community.
To this list, we should add Thumpermonkey. The band, active since 2011, traffic in the kind of vocal-centric, off-kilter, and melancholy progressive rock of which we’re talking about, complete with the modern aesthetic that binds this micro-genre together. Their upcoming album, Make Me Young, etc., seeing its release tomorrow, October 26th, is a fantastic meditation on how we change with time, how our scenery defines it and we define it, and much more. It’s also a very enjoyable listen from a musical perspective; it seems to catch you off guard whenever you think you’ve figured things out, doing much to dispel the obvious tropes of its genre and delivery. It does this by integrating sounds, instruments, and progressions which you didn’t quite expect, creating this eerie sense of dislocation throughout the album that keeps you hooked.
We are very proud today to stream the album in full, right below, but also to include an exploration of the influences which make the band tick as part of our The Anatomy Of series. Head on down below to listen to the full album and scroll down to read what the band had to say about it, about where they come from, and what musical signposts have led them all the way here.
“‘Make Me Young, etc.’ started life as an experiment in adding more orchestration to our sound, giving Rael more space to play keys and piano, allowing the music to become more cinematic. 6 years later, we have an album which begins by focussing on the minute, internal aspects of human experience, and ends with Earth getting wiped out by an extinction level event. I’m not quite sure how that happened. There was an awful lot of writing stuff, throwing stuff away, coming back to stuff we’d thrown away and then harvesting tiny parts of it for newer material. It simultaneously seems like it’s gone by in a blur as well as taking an age to complete. It’s an enormous relief to finally be able to release the thing. A lot of these songs were in existence before we released ‘Sleep Furiously’, and it’s taken time for them to coalesce into a meaningful whole. Some people suggest that the new music feels like quite a departure from the last record – of course, that’s true, but that’s still strange for us to get our heads around; we’ve been working on the recordings for so long that there’s an intense sense of familiarity to them. If there’s anything that we hope the listener takes away from ‘Make Me Young, etc.’, it’s a sense of positivity. That might sound strange in relation to an album about human extinction, but seeing as our personal extinction is inevitable, (either by an asteroid or by more mundane causes), it’s really worth putting energy into paying attention to the amazing stuff that is happening in our lives right now.
–Mike Woodman (Vox/Guitar)
Faith No More – King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime
All the kids at my school traded CDs back and forth. Everyone was putting 45-minute albums on each side of a C90 cassette. The typical mix of NWOBHM and 90’s rock and metal albums were doing the rounds – Megadeth, Maiden, Therapy, Alice in Chains, – somehow I ended up with copy of The Real Thing by Faith No More, with a really crappily photocopied cassette insert that I’d sellotaped together to try and make it seem in some way authentic.
I have a much more distinct memory of buying Angel Dust from Our Price on CD, and taking it back several days later because I had no idea what the fuck was going on. At that age, it felt to me like an insult – like a record made by a band who were trying to deliberately alienate the audience they’d built up with The Real Thing. Of course, today, I struggle to listen to The Real Thing, and yet, Angel Dust remains one of my favorites now that I’ve learned that the things which really have longevity are the things that make me feel uncomfortable on the first listen.
Having said that, it’s King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime that probably had the most impact on me as a musician. The fact that a band would have the audacity to record an album of 50% highly genre specific funk, spiritual and lounge tracks, and then place these alongside 50% cynical, wonky, synth-dripping metal tracks made me laugh like a drain. I think I was mainly laughing at that version of me that was initially so offended by Angel Dust that I had to take it back to Our Price. That version of me was an idiot.
I wish the lineup of FNM with Trey Spruance had lasted longer than one album. As much as Mr. Bungle had its roots in awkward circus-prog, there were moments, (on “California” especially), that resulted in the creation of really unusual emotional resonances when Patton and Spruance worked together. I get a bit of that vibe on King for a Day as well – but the fact that this tone is delivered discretely either in the context of pop songs or Patton screaming about feces makes the whole thing feel nightmarish rather than wacky.”
Genesis – Foxtrot
There was a distinct, turning-point moment for me in early adolescence when I started listening to my dad’s vinyl collection. The LPs on highest rotation were Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield and early Genesis albums, Foxtrot mainly at first.
Though I’d been involved in a lot of music early on and learned classical piano from being small, I don’t think I’d had any shivers-up-the-spine, third-eye-opening type moments until then. It’s funny as there are parts of these albums that sound so naive, almost laughable to me now. But I still admire the ambition and the ideas, even if the execution isn’t always convincing to modern ears.
It was from this point that I started to really develop a “taste,” to have strong opinions about what I did and didn’t like in music. I think I bring some small part of 70s Prog to everything I do, even if it’s an orchestral film score or electronic TV soundtrack.
–Rael Jones (Keys)
Silverchair – Neon Ballroom
I’ve never really thought of Silverchair‘s Neon Ballroom as one of my favourite albums. I do love the opening track “Emotion Sickness” in its entirety, and there are lots of aspects of the rest of the album that I like a lot. I love that a teenage grunge band expanded the scope of what they were doing to something this ambitious, filled with avant garde piano flourishes, harp, strings, mellotron, big dynamic shifts… where ugly chords and heavy riffs are fused with lush, pretty arrangements and a melodic sensibility. In recent years I’ve realised that the way Ben Gillies plays drums on this album probably fed quite a bit into how I play. He lays down some very beefy yet laid-back scaffolding that really suits both the chunky riffs and the big orchestrations. That sense of heft and sitting just behind the beat probably resonated with a central part of my brain and became part of the core of what I wanted my drumming to sound like without me really realising it.
I definitely listened to the album a lot as a teenager, and in fact, their gig at Brixton Academy while touring Neon Ballroom was the first big rock show I ever saw, having just turned 15. So it definitely hit me at a very formative moment. For some reason, I never gave the album a great deal of credit at the time, and it does now feel like it has a somewhat adolescent quality in spite of its ambition… which is fair enough really as Daniel Johns was still only 19 when he wrote it. While I’m not sure that any of the songs on it are classics, each track is distinctive, and yet as a whole, the album has a highly singular sound too. Though something about it holds me back from recommending it unreservedly, listening to it now I can’t help thinking it’s quite an achievement.
I think I don’t always realise when something is influencing me. When you get intensely into a band or record and listen to it all the time, when it’s the only thing you ever really want to listen to, you know it’s making its mark. But other times something can bury itself in your head without you realising and form a part of your musical DNA surreptitiously. Deerhoof‘s Offend Maggie, Time Of Orchids‘ Namesake Caution, and Queens Of The Stone Age‘s Songs For The Deaf were all examples of the former for me, but I think Neon Ballroom was the latter.
–Ben Wren (Drums)
Primus – Pork Soda
I discovered Primus by accident. I was 12 or 13 and it was 1993. My step-father is also a bassist, and he had bought the Sailing The Seas Of Cheese LP on the strength of Les Claypool winning an award in a magazine. He played me the record. I didn’t get it. It wasn’t Megadeth or Iron Maiden or Rush. It didn’t sound like any rock music I had ever heard. The vocals were weird. The guitar was weird. The songs were weird. I was, however, very intrigued. There was something here. The dudes on the back of the record did not look like metal guys, but they looked good. My 12-year-old brain knew that this was very cool, and kind of out there. I got my dad to tape it for me. A few months later, Pork Soda had just been released, so I bought it on cassette with some pocket money. It starts and ends with banjos. It seemed even weirder than the other record. I perservered; there was a new world here: rock, but not just rock. I felt I had been let into a secret somehow – enlightenment and coolness were right around the corner.
The bass was an obvious attraction: huge, ugly, ridiculous and obnoxious. Not in a show-off way, just in your face and relentless. It didn’t sound like a bass or a guitar, but it did the job of both. Tim Alexander’s drums were perhaps the most accessible thing about the band, like a punk-funk Neil Peart. Larry LaLonde’s guitar sounded like the way my head felt that time I huffed too much cellulose paint thinners through a sock when painting Warhammer figures. The lyrics discussed the finer points of masturbation, getting stuck in line in government offices, smoking weed and other things I didn’t yet quite fully understand. It was funny and sarcastic. These were not metal songs about dragons and warfare.
No one else liked it. My friends thought I was crazy. When an older kid at school dissed my army surplus bag with the Primus script carefully drawn on it, I knew I had found my band. This was perhaps more important to me than Claypool’s bass playing. I had something that was mine – no one else understood it or liked it. The Pork Soda album was my gateway to the many kinds of strange music I would go on to discover, but it was also something that gave me the green light to be myself. As a young teenager, this was hugely important and gave me the confidence through those years to follow my own path.
–Sam Warren (Bass)