- Album Reviews

Heliopolis – City of the Sun

How would you define Progressive Rock? After quick troll round the internet, I came up with this,

Progressive rock (often shortened to prog or prog rock) is a form of rock music that evolved in the late 1960s and early 1970s as part of a “mostly British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility.” The term “art rock” is often used interchangeably with “progressive rock”, but while there are crossovers between the two genres, they are not identical.

Progressive rock songs either avoid common popular music song structures of verse-chorus-bridge, or blur the formal distinctions by extending sections or inserting musical interludes, often with exaggerated dynamics to heighten contrast between sections. Classical forms are often inserted or substituted, sometimes yielding entire suites, building on the traditional medleys of earlier rock bands. Progressive rock songs also often have extended instrumental passages, marrying the classical solo tradition with the improvisational traditions of jazz and psychedelic rock. All of these tend to add length to progressive rock songs, which may last longer than twenty minutes.”

Recent releases from some of the early stalwarts of the genre, Yes, Genesis etc have ignited serious discussion between cognoscenti of the genre as to how great it was in the 70’s and modern prog cannot hold a candle to it and how it must change to survive in modern music culture (sorry?, isn’t that the nature of progression anyway?). Comedian Al Murray put it best in the recent Genesis documentary when he said that prog fans generally don’t want their favourite bands to progress anymore after the first couple of albums!

I, personally, feel that people who yearn for the so called ‘Golden Age’ of progressive rock are looking at things with rose tinted spectacles and really need to listen to some of the great, modern progressive bands and the amazing music that they are producing now. The last two or three years are really proving to me that now is the Golden Age for prog as exciting new artists produce music that transcends modern life and gives meaning on the difficult road we travel.

Writing for Lady Obscure Music Magazine gives me the privilege of being at the forefront of this intense influx of new and impressive music and I have to say that there have been some superb releases over the last couple of years and it is showing no signs of abating anytime soon.

One band that has really grabbed my attention recently is L.A. based Heliopolis, their debut album ‘City of the Sun’ was released on September 16th and its brand of traditional style progressive music brought bang up to date for the twenty-first century is really quite compelling.

Formed in the summer of 2012, the band set out to celebrate the uplifting power of music. Comprised of former members of Mars Hollow, Ten Jinn and Gabble Ratchet, Heliopolis features Jerry Beller (drums and vocals), Matt Brown (keyboards and vocals), Kerry Chicoine (bass and vocals) Mike Matier (guitars) and Scott Jones (vocals), their mission is to deliver the very best in contemporary progressive-rock music paired with an ultimately optimistic message.

Bassist Kerry adds, “These days there seems to be a disproportionate emphasis on darkness, we find exploring the balance between despair and optimism a more challenging and ultimately satisfying approach.”

Well, let’s set the controls for the heart of the ‘City of the Sun’ and we have lift off! Opener New Frontier begins all seriously with some free form progressive rock, jarring rhythms, distorted guitar and emphatic drums, all conducted by a manic keyboard. It is like someone has set a Michael Moorcock novel to music, brilliant chaos personified before your sanity is restored and a smooth keyboard line runs you into the metaphorical sunshine. The next part of the track introduces Scott Jones’ distinctive Geddy Lee style vocals, a milder, smoother version though. As the song daintily takes off, it is all sweetness and light and very traditional in its homage to 70’s progressive rock. The instrumental interludes and multi-part song structure are performed with a joie de vivre, a celebration of the light. I feel like something dark is lifted from inside me and I can’t help but smile. The delicate keyboard and delightful piano accompany the impressive vocals on this light-hearted journey, whether it is relevant in the complicated world we live in is a moot point, just enjoy it. Take a Moment delivers something more serious, a lesson that, whilst enjoyable in the undertaking, is one of note. The introduction is more sombre and thoughtful and the vocals are more deliberate and astute. The brilliant keyboard runs that abound add a huge dose of character to this considerate and solicitous song. It is not a song of darkness but meditative and contemplative, it makes you think and exercises your grey matter and, once again, the musicianship is of the highest quality, leaving you in a reflective mood.

Mr Wishbone is a short instrumental that has clashing elements all rolled in with a sense of humour, indicative of a higher intelligence that is not trouble by the basic feelings that make up our day to day living. The bass and drums drive the track along with a cartoonish industrial edge. I don’t know why but it just reminds me of The Wizard of Oz, go figure? I just love its cheeky, tongue in cheek feel. Deeply emotional and full of joy, Elegy is a song that just fills me with happiness, almost bringing tears to my eyes as it washes over you with its love and tenderness. Scott’s voice is sincere and full of devotion. An open love letter to some lucky person I think and one that is a musical delight as well. The piano dances across your senses and the bass and drums add sheen and lustre to the proceedings, add in a gambolling keyboard solo that combines with a sublime guitar to lift your soul and you couldn’t ask for a more alluring track, full of promise and affection.

It is way too early for me to say that we have come to the final track but, unfortunately for your ears, your heart and your soul, we have. Thankfully Love and Inspiration is fourteen minutes of sublime beauty and grace and will not leave your inner self for a very long time. An introduction of divine piano and graceful acoustic guitar sets the tone for something that will lift your very being into an ethereal state of exultation, I love lengthy track intros when they are as brilliant as this. A really jazzy vibe is then generated by a cool synth note and funky guitar, laid back and without a care in the world. It has an ability to cleanse the darkest and deepest areas of your psyche and leave you calm and collected. Scott’s vocals are smooth and measured and, on the impressive chorus, heavenly! I find myself singing along at the top of my voice. There is an instrumental piece that follows, intricate and technically profound, that stops the song from being too saccharine and over the top and shows the songwriting skills of these five potent musicians. I find myself awaiting the next rendition of that triumphant chorus though and, when it is delivered once more, I am simply uplifted, as close to a religious experience without going to Church as I could imagine. A coruscating keyboard solo that threatens to run away with itself adds another contrast to the general feeling of wellbeing that mostly pervades and then the song starts to build up to its powerful conclusion. The compelling chorus is repeated, ramping up the expectancy as the band rise to the challenge and close out this amazing track, and album, with aplomb.

If, like me, you like the simple, beautiful things in life, if a ray of sunshine makes you smile and you consider yourself a ‘glass half full’ kind of person then, you will appreciate the amazing piece of music that I have just listened to. An absolutely superb, album that everyone should hear at least once and, if it doesn’t leave you in a better place than where you were before you heard it then, I’m sorry my friend, there really is no hope for you, I’d get practicing how to spell Beelzebub now if I were you! A must buy, go on, buy it, quick before all the copies have gone!

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