Introducing: Paul Cusick

Not to be confused with American actor John Paul Cusack, Paul Cusick is a solo artist that fits somewhere into the realm of post-progressive rock. I discovered Paul Cusick several years ago through a Facebook advertisement and although I’m not normally the type to act upon an ad, I thought I would give the man that was compared to Steven Wilson a fair chance – and I’m glad I did!

There are definitely similarities with Wilson. Cusick plays all the instruments on his records, except for the drums, which have been handled by Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree) and Marco Minnemann (Steven Wilson Band) in the past, amongst others, in addition to producing the music himself too. Sound-wise he is also reminiscent of Wilson, who, in turn, is often compared to David Gilmour, as they all share a style that lets ‘feel’, rather than technical ability, take control, in addition to favouring soundscapes. Another similarity lies in his tendency to promote melody over lengthy instrumental passages, which was a characteristic trait of Wilson’s Porcupine Tree-era music.

It all sounds pretty promising.

Now you’re expecting the ‘but’, but to be honest, there is no ‘but’ to speak of. The only small negative I can find is that he is not as vocally strong as Wilson, but his compositions aren’t about vocal-prowess, instead they exist to provide narrative and structure, rather than as a focal point to the music.

Focal Point is in fact the name of Cusick’s debut album, released in 2009, which takes the listener through a post-progressive journey, encompassing soft piano tracks like Fade Away, strong rock moments as in Everblue and Big Cars, and even rich orchestral pieces such as Senza Tempo. Debut albums can often suffer from not being adventurous enough, but Focal Point, provides a great array of styles, allowing the listener to really understand Cusick’s musical influences and inspirations.

The same can also be said for follow-up P’dice (a play on the word prejudice), which kept on the same path of post-progressive rock, but expanded in range to include everything from the hard rock of Everything and the eerie, NIN-like industrial moods of God, Paper, Scissors, to the quieter tracks that close the album, which utilise fragile acoustic guitars and soft keys. There is a noticeable step up in ambition to; the lengthy Borderlines snakes its way between haunting e-bow swells, loose blues moments and powerful rock sections that are backed by orchestral punches, mutating in a way that only the most experienced of progressive songwriters can consistently achieve. With P’dice, Cusick emerged with his own musical identity, truly establishing himself as an emulator of the progressive greats, rather than an imitator.

Cusick is currently taking a break from the cyclical album recording process, due to work and creative pressures, in which he aims to release new songs as and when they are recorded. It is a shame that the music industry can’t properly support a homegrown solo artist such as Cusick, but as long as he continues to release music, I will continue to listen and I hope after discovering him, you will do the same.

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– James

Taking the Plunge

I’ve always wanted to get into the weird and wonderful music of Devin Townsend, but for some reason I’ve never listened to a complete album of his. Towards the end of last year he released a double album entitled Z2 (pronounced zed squared for the musically pedantic) and I took it as a sign to give Devin Townsend a proper chance.

It may have taken a further six months from this moment of clarity, but finally I have a copy of the double album sitting beside me as I write this blog post. The album consists of one Devin Townsend Project record, entitled Sky Blue and a second disc entitled Dark Matters, which is the sequel to the infamous Devin Townsend solo album Ziltoid the Omniscient. As a relatively new fan to the world of Devin, I shall be saving the Ziltoid experience for another time, focussing instead on the slightly less indulgent first disc.

Like predecessor Epicloud (intended to be read both ways), Sky Blue encompasses a whole spectrum of styles, rather than sticking to a specific sound like the original four DTP records set out to do. However the overarching theme to the album is beauty. Nowhere is this more apparent than with second track Fallout, where Devin’s operatic vocals combine with Anneke van Giersbergen’s (of The Gathering fame, as well as from her frequent collaborations) soaring voice, producing a blanket of gorgeous aural pleasure. The same technique is used for both Midnight Sun and The Ones Who Love, which are soft and gentle songs that transport you through layers of melodic waves and subtle melodic hooks.

Less subtle, yet equally addictive, are Sky Blue and Silent Militia. Both of which take inspiration from pop, the former from Usher’s DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love and the latter from Will.I.Am’s music and Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Round (Like a Record), creating some kind of musical equivalent to homeopathy. Universal Flame also incorporates elements of pop, having a catchy chorus and a standard pop structure, whilst utilising dynamics to build an all-consuming wall of sound in the chorus, creating a real sense of euphoria. This is a feeling that is continued with the epic Before We Die, which after a droning instrumental section flows into the short outro The Ones Who Love.

Much of the album manages to incorporate metal into the beauty formula. A New Reign begins where Midnight Sun left off, before turning, in an instant, into a metal track with harmonic minor intervals and unsettling atmospheres. Rejoice also uses the juxtaposition between the two styles, except it mixes a heavy instrumental backdrop and a raw Devin vocal style with Anneke’s catchy vocal refrain, similar to the way that Anneke’s voice glides on top of Warrior’s rougher musical foundation. Rain City is a lengthy track that once again shifts focuses with each new section, cycling between crunching chords and segments that float like a light summer breeze, which then transform into the relaxed atmosphere’s of Forever.

Sky Blue is an invitation into the inner workings of Devin Townsend’s mind and provides a chance to sample many of his different personal styles, ranging from the immediate pop track, through grandiose operatic moments and into the dark metallic tones that lurk sporadically across the record. As a first true taste of Devin Townsend, I can honestly say that I’m hooked and can’t wait to delve even deeper into his already vast discography.

Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and as always press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

– James

Music for Spring

Over the last week I’ve been listening to a lot of female-fronted acoustic music, so in this week’s RockAtlantic post I thought I’d share three of my favourite artists which fit this specification and who provide a perfect soundtrack to accompany the spring sunshine here in the UK.

Soley

I previously mentioned Soley in one of my ‘introducing’ posts after discovering her music through a TV soundtrack. Soley originally formed part of the Icelandic indie band Seabear, contributing piano and backing vocals to the seven-piece, but has since branched off to become a promising solo artist, releasing her debut effort We Sink in 2011. Her compositions are very atmospheric, due in part to her dreamy vocals, but also because of her use of loops on guitar, piano and even vocals, which help to build deep textures that many singer/songwriters are unable to achieve. Even though Soley tends to favour darker atmospheres, her music is still wonderfully beautiful and with her odd lyrics providing intrigue and mystery, her music becomes incredibly addictive. Soley’s second LP, Ask the Deep, is set for release in early May, which follows on from last year’s haunting piano album Kromantik.

Hey Ocean!

Going from dark and dreamy textures to pop-filled melodies, Canadian pop band Hey Ocean! are on the opposite end of the female-led acoustic spectrum. Lead singer Ashleigh Ball, who is also known for her voice acting work, is backed by a band consisting of guitarist David Beckingham and bassist David Vertesi, who both also provide vocals. Starting off as a funk-inspired, acoustic-focused act, their sound has evolved slightly over three albums to now incorporate more electric guitars and to have greater commercial appeal. Their latest album, IS, which was released in 2012, was their most complete and focused album yet, leaving me eagerly awaiting their next effort.

Paper Aeroplanes

I was introduced to this Welsh duo by my girlfriend when she brought me along to their Union Chapel show last year. Their music is delicate and combines gentle acoustic passages with Sarah Howells’ soft and beautiful vocals. Since writing about the pop band last year, they have released their fourth album Joy, which is the perfect continuation of their (mostly) sombre brand of music. One of their biggest strengths is their choice of instrumentation in their music, such as the meloncholic piano of Multiple Love, the exciting cello riff from Little Letters and the inspired percussion on Race You Home. It’s a great compliment that their compositions don’t sound like they originate from a duo and seeing them live only helped me to appreciate the richness of their music.

Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and as always press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

– James

Desert Island Discs Part 2

Last Monday I began giving my choices for my Desert Island Discs selection to celebrate two years of RockAtlantic. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, Desert Island Discs is a BBC radio show that asks celebrities about what music they would choose if they were castaway on a desert island. I began my list with Coheed & Cambria’s No World For Tomorrow, Reuben’s In Nothing We Trust, Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave and Steven Wilson’s Insurgentes. In today’s blog I give the other four albums, saving my favourite until last.

Tool – 10,000 Days

When it comes to Tool, people seem to either love them or hate them; regarding their music as either supreme genius or pretentious and boring. I, clearly, fall into the first category and out of the four albums they have released so far (in 25 years), their most recent effort is the one that pleases me the most. 10,000 Days is a continuation of its predecessor Lateralus, with lengthy progressive metal passages that switch at will between time signatures and instrumentation that is very percussive in nature; even vocalist Maynard James Keenan adapts his vocals to this style. Not only is the music inside superb, but the art and 3D packaging is incredible too, adding further to the band’s creative ambition.

Porcupine Tree – Deadwing

Steven Wilson makes a second appearance on the list, which is only fitting for a man who seems to be involved in everything good that comes out of the progressive genre. Deadwing is a concept album, inspired by a film script written in part by Wilson, which helps make the music feel focused, as well as giving a it good flow. The record also embraces many different aspects of Wilson’s sound, with heavier tracks, like Shallow and Halo, and ethereal numbers, like Lazarus and Mellotron Scratch, sitting happily alongside each other. Deadwing is certainly one of Porcupine Tree’s more complete records, so much so that it earns a place in my top eight albums.

Opeth – Blackwater Park

Few bands have such a defining album as Opeth’s Blackwater Park. This record helped elevate the Swedish progressive metal band into the big time (and into the so-called ‘Big Four’ of progressive metal) and has become a staple record in any metal fan’s collection. The combination of huge guitar riffs, light acoustic sections, death metal growls and the odd drop of progressive rock nostalgia, helped to create an album blueprint, not only for their subsequent releases, but for the many imitators and emulators too.

Number One: Anathema – Weather Systems

When trying to describe Weather Systems, only one word seems to do it justice: beautiful. Anathema epitomise post-progressive music, with their use of lush orchestration, soaring vocals and tracks that build up to an epic crescendo. Weather Systems employs all of these, letting the emotional subject matter of the lyrics be communicated through the music too. The album is even more impressive when you consider that this was only Anathema’s second album in this style; they originally began as a doom metal outfit, before evolving through alternative rock to reach their current incarnation. Looking at my iTunes library reveals that the record’s second track, Untouchable Part 2, is my most played song, which just shows how much Weather Systems resonates with me and is direct proof as to why it deserves its place as my favourite album.

I want to take the opportunity to thank everyone who reads RockAtlantic and for keeping me motivated over the last two years! Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and as always press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

– James