Tuesday, February 24, 2015

John Bassett

Greetings, fellow progheads!  Leaving Detroit left me a bit melancholy; seven days with Discipline made for a truly inspiring week.  However, not being one to rest on my laurels, I hastily refueled the Concert Closet and decided to pull a Monty Python "...now for something completely different..." move by reviewing two bands and one solo performer--all three the brain child of the same artist. Over the past decade John Bassett has been the front man for KingBathmat and recently started a new endeavor, Arcade Messiah.  Taking yet another jaunt across the pond, I bring my search for all things prog back to London for a prog celebration of sorts listening to the John Bassett trifecta; KingBathmat and Arcade Messiah as well as his solo work.

Bassett refers to himself as a "...multi-instrumentalist, sing-songwriter, and producer..." and has seven self-released albums on his own Stereohead Records label; a fairly impressive bullet point on a resume.  Let's walk together through the prog garden...stopping at different vantage points to absorb the view, ponder the soundscape, and soak in what Mister Bassett has been churning out...  

Since I am taking a few liberties this week, I will begin with the KingBathmat section of the buffet. Self-described as an "...independent, psychedelic, progressive, alternative rock band,"  KingBathmat is as easy to pin down as an enraged honey badger.  Strong aromas of Dream Theater, Uriah Heep, and  a heavy dose of Humble Pie run through their sound.  Heavy guitar suggestive of Joe Satriani permeates the headphones one minute while a smooth, velvet-like sound reminiscent of Klaatu wafts through your ears the next.  KingBathmat takes prog to a different level in that they don't just refuse to be labeled--they dare you to try.

The song posted below is called "Sentinel."  A piece from the darker section of John's acreage in the prog garden, the guitars and drums simply slap you right out of the gate.  Once the onslaught subsides, you are met by subtle piano work and vocals that settle over the top like warm caramel poured over a sundae.  KingBathmat crawls inside your head slowly and deliberately, only to explode across the lining of your cranium with one big blast.


Moving to the next section of the buffet table, I find a sampling of John's solo work and come away with a more subtle, aptly titled piece called "Stay Away From the Dark."  A more delicate opening; acoustic guitar meshing seamlessly with vocals as smooth as corduroy.  A sense of foreboding undermines the tranquility of the mood...like a beautiful woman warning you to turn back--which entices you to forge ahead faster with more determination.  Top notes of 10cc and Asia bleed through this tune; John added more colors to his palette and painted a very vivid and mottled picture.        

Liner Notes...John Bassett hails from Walthamstow, London.  Leaving school at a young age to pursue a more music filled life, John--a right-hander by nature--taught himself to play guitar left-handed, albeit on a right-handed guitar (sort of a reverse Jimi Hendrix).  Straying deeper into the minefield that is the music world, John began writing songs and laying down all the instrument tracks.  Releasing self-produced albums online helped him get live gigs, build a following, and traverse a rather distinctive path, culminating in an extraordinarily diverse and varied career. While John provides the multi-instrumentalism for both his solo work and Arcade Messiah, KingBathmat credits Bernie Smirnoff  as the man behind the drum kit.

Heading back to the extensive buffet one last time for a taste of the deeper and darker Arcade
Messiah, I come away like a kid with the prize at the bottom of the Cracker Jack box--my reward being the song "Your Best Line Of Defence Is Obscurity."  Travelling the halls of your brain with a carefully timed alarm, the piece opens darkly...you can feel tension mount as guitars give way to steady drumming, and all the while a siren keeps warning you to look out--you just aren't sure what for.  Perhaps if obscurity really is what John is searching for, he should not have put together such a brilliant piece.  The apprehension is real, much like the fright you feel listening to Pink Floyd's "Careful With That Axe, Eugene."

Arcade Messiah is the alter-ego/dark side of John Bassett.  He is able to come at you full throttle with almost reckless abandon.  The music initially grabs you by the collar as it then slithers its fingers around your neck, moving with great swiftness to squeeze your entire brain.  An onslaught of Liquid Tension Experiment and strong top notes of Adrian Belew at his avant-garde best run rampant across this disc. Learn more about John and his prog moods at http://www.johnbassettmusic.com/ and http://arcademessiah.com/.  John can also be found on Twitter @johnbassettsolo  and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/kingbathmat/app_204974879526524.

Well fellow progheads, I hope you enjoyed the "three-fer" this week.  John Bassett trampled across the prog garden and set down roots in multiple sections, even to the point of cross-pollinating the prog vines he cultivates.  Recent discussion in a prog chatroom about what is/isn't prog and how today's bands stack up against the 70's "standard bearers" resulted in some particularly pointed arguments and points-of-view.  My personal take is that there is no comparison--the genre has evolved whether we "prog snobs" like it or not.  I have come down off my high horse of late...and thankfully so.  KingBathmat and Arcade Messiah are different reflections of the vast progressive spectrum--and what a shame it would be to miss either!  My search for all things prog has taught me to be open, receptive, and guarded--there are musicians and bands out there using the prog label to cover their inability to focus a thought...but it is worth wading through the muck and mire to discover jewels like John Bassett and all that he brings to the prog garden.  Until next week...

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