The ability of streaming and download sites such as Bandcamp and others to make the musical endeavours of thousands of bands accessible to listeners remains a double-edged sword. The sheer diversity of choice and freedom of distribution away from major record labels means music which would have once remained unknown to the public is now out there for all. However, the democratising of music in recent decades has inevitably led to a huge variation in product quality and an emphasis on genre pigeon-holing – making it quite a task for your average punter to sift through ‘the good, the bad and the ugly.’
When time allows, it is a very interesting journey to embark on, and the prospect of finding real musical gems amongst the rumble is an exciting one. Recommendations from others and links to ‘similar’ artists can provide a route map to many. My colleague on The Progressive Aspect Rob Fisher does a fine job keeping us informed of new releases and supplying snippets to listen to, to allow us to consider reviewing them – although time constraints will always mean that some unfairly get ignored or passed over. However, when one such release strikes a chord with a reviewer, the prospect of covering it and spreading the word to our readership is always a worthy one.
Time and Other Illusions is the third album released by a modern symphonic and melodic progressive rock band called Thirteen of Everything. Founded in 2000 in Austin, Texas, they have intermittently recorded and performed over many years, with the obligatory line-up changes that go hand-in-hand with producing prog rock music for the sheer joy of it, with little prospect of it ever being commercially successful enough to allow the musicians to be full-time. Their debut album, Welcome, Humans, received wide acclaim on the American progressive rock scene back in 2005, although it was not until 2019 that the follow-up, Our Own Sad Fate, was released.
Founding members Ted Thomas (drums and vocals) and Mick Peters (Chapman Stick, bass guitar, acoustic guitar and vocals) have been ever-present, and are joined by Brett Cosby (guitars) and Bob Villwock (keyboards) on this album, which was recorded between 2018 and 2022. Former keyboardist Thad Miller appears on one of the earliest tracks recorded. Unfortunately, Brett has since relocated to his home state of Massachusetts, so former member Joe Funk has returned to the band – although he does not appear on the album. Vocal duties are generally shared by Ted and Mick.
Time and Other Illusions is a rather fine album. Although underpinned by a love of classic-era symphonic prog rock, it has a modern and individual sheen to it all, with a range of adventurous arrangements, rhythmic variety, strong melodies and thematic development. Influences from other genres can be heard and although there is an underlying melancholic ambience, there is a refreshing variety of moods and not without a touch of humour here and there. Over seven tracks (including an epic final one), Thirteen of Everything have produced a highly enjoyable, diverse and rewarding album and continues to grow on you with repeated listens.
Timeline starts the album impressively. Stabbing guitar riffs and swirling keyboards introduce the song, before Ted’s vocals, accompanied by piano, gently recount the story of a person who has become ‘unstuck’ in time – unable to control his past, present and future and forced to live through past memories and then see in the future. There follows some invigorating and varied passages of heavy rock and atmospheric, retro and modern synthesiser sounds – all driven by a dynamic rhythm section. It’s a whirl of activity that takes you to unexpected places and is a strong ‘calling card’ by the band to new listeners.
Alternate Life is a Mike Peters song, with former member Thad Miller on keyboards, and is a rumination of the choices and directions our lives could take. Lovely, delicate piano is built upon with some soaring guitar lines, and a melancholic lyrical flow punctuated by bursts of keyboards, guitar and rumbling bass against an undulating tempo. It twists and turns before the intensity builds and gains much ‘proggy’ complexity as it dances through to a majestic – although plaintive – conclusion, with more expressive guitar work from Brett, before a return to the original piano theme.
Where the Time Goes is Bob Villwock’s answer to the age-old question of why time passes so quickly. Dominated by a refreshing backdrop of Bob’s keyboard noodlings over which Brett weaves some uplifting guitar passages, all driven by Ted’s busy drumming, it is a vibrant contrast to the earlier, more extended tracks.
The curiously titled The Penultimate Flight of Armando the Pigeon is based on the true story of a champion racing pigeon in Belgium that was sold to a Chinese buyer for 1 million Euros – with the plane flight from Belgium to China presumably the flight in question. It is a darkly tinged, but wistfully jaunty song with Mike’s vocals conjuring up a psychedelic feel, enhanced by some thoughtful, dreamy acoustic guitar, retro keyboards and Chapman Stick, with electric guitar rising high until the soft ‘cooing’ of Armando adds some gentle poignancy at the very end.
We move from birds to cats with The King of Istanbul, which looks at how every cat thinks they are the ‘king’ of Istanbul, because of the deference from humans to the many cats that roam free around the city (this is the main theme of the evocative album cover artwork). Chiming nursery keyboard notes move into a repeating guitar motif and a leisurely stroll which gains in intensity with a winning combination of chunky riffs and floating solo guitar lines, as Ted delivers a catchy chorus and some subtle humour. Once again there are refreshing changes in melody and tempo, with touches of neo prog, through to the reprise of the main theme. Complex and yet accessible too.
Warmth and Darkness was written prior to Covid-19 and is much darker in tone. The lyrics describe a contagious virus ‘speaking’ to the infected person hosting it. Inspired by the 1964 Vincent Price post-apocalyptic film The Last Man on Earth (which was itself based on the book I am Legend), soundbites from the film pepper this sombre and haunting song. Brett’s extended guitar solo is stunning and a real album highlight.
The album concludes with a 16-minute, five-part epic called Count All the Days. Dealing with a prisoner’s isolation at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, it starts with jazz-influenced, off-kilter, musical passages and shifting percussive time signatures. The use of minor keyboard chords reminded me of aspects of Yes’s Sound Chaser and the switch in mood during the Stand in the Light section makes it a more challenging listen, but also one that shows the band at their most progressive. Persistence of Memory is more contemplative, with lush, Mellotron-like keyboard chords and repeated guitar patterns, before the forlorn vocals and dreamy resonance of Under. The dramatic introduction of swirling synthesisers, staccato guitar, bass and drums takes us through Cognitive Dissonance and into the concluding Wait For Me section. Here, the prisoner is still holding onto some fading hope for eventual release but remains deep within the continuing nightmare of this incarceration. It is an emotive and disturbing piece, heightened by the effective twin vocals from Mike and Ted, but showing the band’s ambition to push the music beyond the genre’s expectations. A different grower with its secrets revealed over time.
Time and Other Illusions is a captivating and intriguing release by Thirteen of Everything, who draw upon their melodic and symphonic prog influences, but shape them into a signature style which is quite unique and at times unexpected. Diverse and refreshing, with a sad, pensive feeling to most of the songs, and space for both thoughtful, articulate lyrics and intricate, complex musical flights of fancy. It shows that American prog is alive and kicking – provided you take the time and effort to search for it. It is an album that is well worth tracking down. I’m very pleased that I did.
01. Timeline (8:57)
02. Alternate Life (12:02)
03. Where The Time Goes (5:32)
04. The Penultimate Flight of Armando the Pigeon (7:11)
05. The King of Istanbul (10:35)
06. Warmth and Darkness (7:32)
07. Count All the Days (16:33)
– i. Stand in the Light
– ii. Persistence of Memory
– iii Under
– iv. Cognitive Dissonance
– v. Wait for Me
Total Time – 68:62
Brett Cosby – Guitars
Mike Peters – Chapman Stick, Basses, Bass Pedals, Vocals
Ted Thomas – Drums & Percussion, Vocals
Bob Villwock – Keyboards
Thad Miller – Keyboards (track 2)
Record Label: Basement Avatar Records (CD | Download)
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Released: 17th March 2023