17 Aug 2022
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Kev Rowland - Book Review: The Progressive Underground Volume 4

28 Jun 2022 // A review by Carl Hayman

Well, here I find myself in the weird situation of reviewing a series of reviews. What a novel idea! This gives me a little bit of déjà vu about all the political announcements about announcements that we’ve encountered over the past few years. This is a rare chance to ‘peer review’ reviews written by a VERY talented reviewer by the name of Kev Rowland. He has written a cool series of books titled The Progressive Underground and today, you are reading a review by a far less talented reviewer, about a series of reviews, and I’ll try my best to do it justice as Kev is clearly a passionate and well educated individual with an open mind for stunning musicianship that he clearly appreciates, and potentially comes from a very different angle than a review I would write.

Let’s start with a bit about me to set the tone. I am a 38 year old drummer, classically trained as a solo musician with practical grading from NZAA and theory grading from Royal Schools of music, turned rock drummer, turned cover band artist. I have put in A LOT of hours of gigging with various rock bands, many years on stage, for little or no thanks, begging my friends to turn up to shows that my bands have put together, and doing it all at our own expense including the recordings. From this angle, I don’t believe there any band deserves a bad review from the simple perspective that no matter how talented they are, they have to work HARD to get to where they are. That is how I approach MY reviews, but Kev has a very different background, and that’s what makes his reviews so unique and I am very much looking forward to reading his book. Let’s crack Into it.

Firstly, Kev has dedicated his writing to his wife Sara and his daughters. I love this – without the support from our spouse, our creative juices don’t flow. We become stagnant, and don’t allow the words to flow through our fingertips into these reviews as easily as they do when our minds are open. Kudos Kev! I hope your writing inspires your girls to dabble in music or at least develop a love for it during their lifetime.

The book I’ve been asked to review is book number 4, spanning his reviews from 2008 to 2013 – there is a brief intro from Olav M. Björnsen that really does sum it up nicely ‘the start of the digital age’ internet was slow, data was expensive, a lot of artwork was handcrafted and unavailable. All of the OG platforms that my bands have used over the years to upload our very first recordings. I speak about this like it’s the dark ages, but by todays social media existence, it really was! Bandcamp and MySpace to name a few. Imagine a world without Spotify & YouTube! This immediately reminds me of the days where you would set an upload to go overnight before you went to sleep at night, and just as you woke up in the morning the songs would be finishing the upload and asking you to hit the save and publish buttons.

Here's my first mistake; I scrolled through Kev’s reviews to see which bands and songs he had reviewed so I could see if there was anything I knew. This is a reminder to myself, I’m not reviewing the band, I’m reviewing the review. First observation – I’ve never heard of any of these bands or songs, which is absolutely awesome for me, and such a blatant reminder of how small the NZ music scene is, and how as musicians we should take the time to listen to some of these underground bands from overseas once in a while just to expand our horizons a little.

Andramelch – Lights From Oblivion. An Italian prog-rock band. Kev has clearly done his background research on them, or been following them a while. He’s got a nice little background blurb about their history which potentially paints them out as a band with a bit more maturity to them. He has nicely summed up a little bit about their music style, how they’ve come together as a nice little unit with multiple influences under one genre. He’s set the tone of the band well and painted them out as a band with a solid sound and crunchy riffs. In my opinion he’s painted out a band with big tone, but great intricacies and solid song-writing skills. The review is brief, and covers the entire album, so it doesn’t delve into the depths of the ‘song by song’ style I would have probably picked, more of a grand overview of the album as a whole package deal, but it's done skilfully and honestly, which really leaves me wanting to take a listen. I love Kev’s wordsmithing and straight-forwardness.

A biggie for me here is on Kev’s third published review in this book he has sounded out the name of the band for the readers. This hits close to home for me as several of my own bands have had names that when being announced have had mispronunciations which is a huge facepalm moment for anyone who likes the band, or the band members themselves. The review is indeed a fantastic overview of the duo showing their style, choosing words accurately and interestingly to inspire the reader to want to take a listen for themselves. My interpretation was a more progressive version of Dream Theater but with gatherings from way more influences, and way less band members. It’s enough to make the reader curious, and curious is exactly what I believe Kev wants his readers to be.

Kev is an absolute master of creating substance using words about music. His reviews often have an eerie ‘space’ about them, giving you enough information to be able to form an opinion about the album or band as a whole, giving you a little background blurb about the band so that you feel like you know them without having listened to their full back-catalogue, and then motivating you to have more of a listen with a few snippets of other ‘like’ bands that might tickle your tastebuds.

All in all, I’m massively impressed with all of his reviews, and unfortunately I’ve missed my submission deadline as it’s taken me a while to put my spin on Kev’s work in a way that I feel does it justice. Coming from a band background, and being eager for others to review what I’ve begged people to listen to for years, I would be absolutely blown-away if I was in a band that had been privileged enough to have their music touch Kev Rowlands hearing senses, and have him put pen to paper.

Amazing work Kev. I really hope that in the future, my own reviews will adapt more of your writing style without encroaching on what you’ve put together over a couple of decades. You really are a superb reviewer, and I think that anyone who is looking for musical inspiration should have a read of your book, read the reviews in detail, and open their mind to whatever pathway that leads them to.

Rating: ( 5 / 5 )
 

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