Sea of Tranquility
Dutch Progressive Rock Pages
Micah ‘Kain’ Rollins
European Progressive Rock Reviews
Keith ‘Muzikman’ Hannaleck
Let it Rock – DME Music Site
Music Street Journal
Progressive Rock & Progressive Metal
Jerry Lucky (www.jerrylucky.com)
“I admire a band with intestinal fortitude and tenacity because that’s what it’s going to take if you choose to play progressive rock music. I got an email a while back from Kyle Minnick of the new band The Tea Club asking if I’d be interested in hearing their CD entitled General Winter’s Secret Museum? Of course I said absolutely! Even the band name and CD title sounded intriguing enough. So here’s the scoop with The Tea Club…they’re a trio of young guys consisting of Pat McGowan (vocals, guitar, bass), Dan McGowan (vocals, guitar) and Kyle Minnick (drums). The band was actually discovered by hardcore ….New Jersey…. producer Tim Gilles who saw the band on myspace and contacted them expressing his love of prog.
Let me start off by saying The Tea Club sounds great. It’s a new and fresh take of progressive rock structures that are easily spotted and yet sounds new and original. Their music is a mix of Mars Volta or Rush on the instrumentation side and ..Echolyn..on the writing and vocal side. And it really works. They never scream and warble like some of the Mars Volta, the vocals are really smooth and under control and with both brothers contributing they’re somereally neat harmonies and vocal tradeoffs. The ..Echolyn..tone really comes through on track two “Cool Smack” (6:00). Where they do remind me of Mars Volta is when they veer off into one of their raw segments. These guys are tight and they can go from soft acoustic segments into wall-of-sound crunchy punk-styled guitars. What won me over however is that The Tea Club is a progressive rock band and they freely admit that. Their compositions are structured intentionally with dramatic shifts in time and tempo. None of the nine tracks is overly long, in fact the longest is just 6:27 and yet each tune will be made up of a number of different elements. And while there is no keyboard, this is one of those bands where you don’t even miss it. Another great track is “Castle Builder”(4:38) that starts off softly with a clean guitar sound picking out a melody line and then proceeds to build in intensity. The next track “Purple Chukz” (4:45) starts off with an alt-prog guitar buzz and vocals delivered in off-kilter minor notes immediately setting the tone before the song shifts into a haunting acoustic guitar middle section accented by the bass and drums. There is some neat guitar interplay and then suddenly the piece picks of tempo and explodes into a short group-riff, before it all comes back to the opening themes but now the sound is dense with instrumentation. On the next track “Will o’ theWisp” (6:27) we’re back to an ..Echolyn.. style only made more aggressive in a distinctly Tea Club style. The band employ an ever changing tight staccato pattern musically in between the vocals, then two-and-a-half minutes into the song everything shifts to an atmospheric blues riff with a nice sixties psychedelic feel. This segment builds to crushing intensity before returning to the opening theme.
Listening to The Tea Club just confirms to me there is a lot talent out there. These guys are tight, sing really well and write some very interesting material. As a first recording General Winter’s Secret Museum is a major accomplishment, one they can be really proud of. They really deserve to be signed and heard by a wider audience. This is music that has huge cross-over potential and if you are a fan of the band’s mentioned or the descriptions above I’d recommend you seek out a copy of their CD today.”
Sea of Tranquility (www.seaoftranquilty.org)
“What do you get when you mix the vocal harmonies of The Beatles or Echolyn, the dissonant abstraction of the mighty Crimson and all around gorgeous melodies? The answer is The Tea Club, a relatively new band hailing from Deptford, New Jersey. Although they have released four EPs, their latest album, General Winter’s Secret Museum is their first full length release. The band consists of Patrick McGowan (vocals, guitar, bass), Dan McGowan (vocals, guitar) and Kyle Minnick (drums). The band delivers a rich full sound which is particularly impressive since this is only a three piece. The album is full of chugging rhythms, angular attacks that seemingly come out of nowhere, beautiful acoustic moments, and lovely layered vocals which only add to this band’s charm. It is clear from the outset, harmony and melody are as important as complex rhythms and patterns, making for an absorbing and first rate listening experience. Often the intense pace is slowed by quieter acoustic moments which makes these songs all the more effective. Also of note is the drumming of Kyle Minnick. Besides setting the sometimes furious pace, he is able to add subtle fills and rolls, at times reminding me of Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree.
The album begins with “Werewolves”, with its slow beginning building up to a wall of sound of crunching guitars and marching drums somewhat reminiscent of The Clash. Excellent harmony vocals in the slower parts invokes memories of The Beatle’s Abbey Road. At one moment the band is cooking at a break neck pace whereas the next moment dreamy soundscapes enter the fold always keeping the listener motivated to hear more. The furious guitar and drum attack of “Cool Smack” sets a blistering tempo, yet still manages to be as melodic as hell. Again the pace slows allowing gentle acoustic strumming to lead the softer section which includes more lovely harmonies from the McGowan brothers before a cacophony of Crimsonesque sounds takes hold only to be followed by gentle acoustic guitar once more. The punk rock attitude of “Big Al” includes nice bass and drum work and some experimental guitar sounds before the music veers in a Floydian direction. This is complicated stuff and very progressive in the truest sense of the word. The mellow “Castle Builder” paints a somber picture with music as well as words:
A miracle that lets you sing like a god
Cry like the devil and sound like an angel
The harvest moon is shining down upon
A field of clouds that will soon be gone
The imagery created by many of these songs suggests the words are as important as the music which is so refreshing in these days of mindless drivel we are so often bombarded with. Also worthy of mention is the artwork. The cover conveys a feeling of serenity, in contrast to the eclectic images inside, inviting comparisons to the music found within.
So there it is folks. Although I only described four songs, the rest are just as good, but I will leave the rest for you. If you appreciate melodic well written songs with a complex edge do yourself a favour and check out The Tea Club. This band deserves your attention.”
Progression Magazine (www.progressionmag.com)
The Tea Club puts out a surprisingly lush and varied sound for a guitar/bass/drums trio. Hailing from New Jersey, Patrick McGowan (vocals, guitar, bass), brother Dan (vocals, guitar) and Kyle Minnick (drums) present an adventurous prog-metal offering with stylistic electric and acoustic guitar embellishments rare to this genre. In place of endless riffage, gorgeous chording and tasty chiming single-note picking keep General Winter’s Secret Museum fresh and original. Patrick’s smooth tenor is perfect for these compositions (no Cookie Monster or screeching castrati).
Each piece is performed with a fiery passion that has the whole affair giving most art-rock bands a run for their money, as beauty and bombast are balanced to maximum effect.
Opening track “Werewolves” starts with pounding, choppy power chords as Pat’s clean croon rides on top. The piece switches gears and slowly winds down, closing out beautifully. “Big Al’ reveals King Crimson influence with a formidable Adrian Belew-era instrumental break.
Expansive and imaginative, The Tea Club’s debut is a solid effort. —Warren Baker”
Organ Magazine (www.organart.demon.co.uk)
“General Winter’s Secret Museum (self release) – We’re somewhere near something akin to the adventures of Mars Volta or maybe Rush, only somewhere near a place near to a combination of the two though, The Tea Club have something of their own to offer. Alive with a considered dynamic of their own, The Tea Club just might be a tad more enjoyable that Mars Volta’s more recent excesses – less of the histrionics, far more subtle, more rewarding, a cleverer approach, progressively good and a little more refined, a little less obvious – this is good. Clever bits of progressive construction, fluid songs, strong vocals. No reinventing the wheel or anything, just really good melodic considered refined dynamic prog flavoured accomplished intelligent alternative rock from a young four piece from New Jersey. A colourful band, a considered band and a band with a flavour of their own – refined melodic prog adventure and now and again a breath-taking dynamic. An album that’s rather recommended and an impressive band who could well be making a few serious waves in the near future”
Dutch Progressive Rock Pages (www.dprp.net)
“The Tea Club were formed in 2003 in Deptford, New Jersey; Patti Smith’s city of birth. The band comprises of Patrick McGowan (vocals, guitars and bass) and his brother Dan McGowan (vocals, guitars) who together with long time friend and drummer Kyle Minnick founded the band. Initially they started out as a four piece with James Berger on bass but Berger quit the band in 2005, so the remaining musicians decided to carry on as a trio. They recorded four EP’s one of which drew the attention of producer/engineer Tim Gilles, (a punk/hard core producer having worked with bands like Agnostic Front, Anthrax & Dog Eat Dog along with Red House Painters, Sussana Hoffs and Tracy Bonham). On The Tea Club’s first full length CD this experienced producer succeeds in giving the album a dynamic, but crystal clear sound.
When listening to General Winter’s Secret Museum (a very cryptic title btw) it’s hard to believe that this is the band’s first proper album as the whole CD sounds very self assured. Musically it is hard to describe the music of The Tea Club, there are traces of 80s King Crimson (the first guitar parts on album opener Werewolves, on Big Al and the Fripperian guitars parts during The Clincher); Jeff Buckley (the vocals in Werewolves and The Clincher); Oceansize, Aereogramme and Radiohead (on the beautiful Castle Builder) and the brilliant but very unknown Terraced Garden (the verses in Purple Chukz); and finally another influence I hear in the vocal department is Echolyn. But as I said we are talking about traces and/or snippets of all the bands mentioned because The Tea Club immediately show they have a style of their own, with the main attractions being the brothers vocals and their guitar playing. Patrick & Dan share the lead vocal duties and both have excellent voices. Their vocals also work very well together as can be heard during the many beautiful vocal harmonies that grace the album. For example Purple Chukz starts with a beautiful vocal melody where the brothers each sing a part of the verse.
Musically there is also a lot to enjoy. As you might have noticed none of the band play keyboards. The only track to feature keyboards is The Moon, played by producer Tim Gilles, and here fails to add anything. The strength of this song lies with the beautiful vocal harmonies, very varied guitar playing, tight drumming and up front distorted bass. So the keyboards are not missed at all, the band is more than capable of delivering progressive song structures, keeping the songs varied and the listener interested without them. So during the songs much happens musically. Let’s take Werewolves for example. It starts with some heavy riffs with great drumming by Minnick, which after a while we are treated to a short instrumental part where the guitars weave around each other accompanied by some distorted bass and then a short loud vocal part. The track then transforms into a very atmospheric song where at first Patrick and Dan McGowan produce some nice vocal harmonies. Finally the tempo picks up until the song ends. Or Cool Smack which starts as a heavy Echolyn song, but also contains some beautiful acoustic guitar.
As I said the main attractions are the vocals and the guitar playing but Kyle Minnick’s drumming is essential to the bands sound. With all the changes in melody and tempo you need a talented drummer to keep everything together and that’s just what Minnick does. Listen for example to the instrumental middle part of Big Al. The Fripp like guitars are backed with strong but also subtle drumming. Excellent!
The Tea Club’s first album is a very self assured affair. This is modern progressive rock and it’s exciting to hear that young bands like Black Mountain, Oceana Company, Diagonal, Pure Reason Revolution, Zombi and now The Tea Club are using progressive rock as a start point while adding a lot of new influences and energy to it.
Btw: After recording the album the band went in search of a bass player. Becky Osenenko, a long time friend, fitted the bill, making The Tea Club a four piece band again.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
“A new band from New Jersey (USA) that is trying to make a name for themselves with their first album, General Winter’s Secret Museum . Consisting of nine mostly mid-lenght pieces, based on drums, bass, guitars (electric and some acoustic) and vocals, this album by The Tea Club does not reinvent the Prog/Pop/Rock genre, but offers us a collection of very well written, composed and performed tracks.
With a new group, it is always usefull to make references with some well known bands… so here we go. When they rock, The Tea Club kind of remind me of the Nick D’Virgilio led Spock’s Beard , except that The Tea Club has a “grungier” sound because they feature no (or very little) keyboards on their album. In fact, General Winter’s Secret Museum gives us a nice mixture of garage rock, hard Prog and some mellower pieces. Again, on the album’s harder stuff, the lead guitar reminds me of the “crunchy” style of play of Big Big Train ‘s Gregory Spawton, and since there are some mellower parts often intertwined in the music, Big Big Train is not a bad reference to make. Finally, on the softer tracks, Echolyn really comes to my mind, in great part because of the harmonies of the two singers that are quite similar to those of Brett Kull and Ray Weston.
General Winter’s Secret Museum is an excellent album, even more if you consider that it is a first album by a group of young musicians. It can easily be compared to good albums by veteran bands. One quality that these guys have that is very rare… they can write and compose great songs. Add to that another hard to find feature… two lead singers that can sing well, and there you have it, The Tea Club has all the ingredients to be a major player in years to come.
The Tea Club is certainly a band to keep an attentive eye on, and General Winter’s Secret Museum is for sure an album to get. Check these guys out using their Myspace link that can be found on this very page. Highly recommended.”
Micah ‘Kain’ Rollins (www.progarchives.com)
“Modern progressive rock is in a very odd state currently. Alot of newcomers to the genre are discovering new and old music equally, and are therefore accepting of bands regardless of their era. However, the more seasoned listeners of years past are much harder to please. Why is this? Well, some would have you believe that all new prog is made up of nothing more than copycat musicians who only make ‘more of the same’ music that lacks originallity. This isn’t completely true, however, as there are many modern bands today that can still manage to remain utterly original despite the overwhelming volume of past influences.
Yet, there are those too who believe that all prog rock is valid no matter what, and we should just ‘accept’ that originality is long dead and the new musicians are doing the best they can. This is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the past viewpoint, and is also just as untrue. In my opinion, the reality of modern Prog Rock is somewhere in between. Indeed, while several supposed ‘prog’ bands today seem to lack the magic that the past masters had (which just happen to include alot of Progressive Metal acts like Shadow Gallery or Pyramaze), there are many more out there that do capture the spirit of the old days by doing the unthinkable; they actually *gasp!* do something original! The bands I’m talking about include but are not limited to: Porcupine Tree, Echolyn, Tool, Ozric Tentacles, Edensong, Rishloo, etc. Then, there are the modern bands that started out in amazing form, but for whatever reason lost their creative path and purpose along the way (bands such as The Mars Volta and Dream Theater are prime examples of this).
in a nutshell, modern Progressive Rock is very divided at this point, I believe. Some of the bands out their truly are still trying to push the musical envelope in new and interesting ways, and others are, well, just riding the coat tails of the real pioneers. Basically, the Progressive movement of today consists of obvious imitators, one-hit wonders and then the bands that actually succeed at taking music further. As I listened to The Tea Club’s release, “General Winter’s Secret Museum”, the question I had to ask myself was simple: which of the three categories do these guys truly fall into?
Well, obviousely The Tea Club hasn’t been around long enough to stagnate, so the second category can be ruled out immediately. But what of the band’s integrety? Do they really care about the genre and treat it with the proper respect? Do they look at music from the right perspective, and most importantly, does their sound stand out enough to be considered a valid part of modern Prog? I am happy to say that after several intense listens of this album, the answer to all of those question is a resounding ‘yes’!
So why do I love this band? Well, for starters, they have managed to make me feel moved in ways I didn’t realize were still vulnerable. I’ve heard so musch music that considers itself ‘prog’ by this time that I’m always forced to stand back and take notice when a certain combination of notes or rhythm can surprise me in such a way. Those moments happened quite frequently with me as I listened to “General Winter”. Also, I love this band because they aren’t afraid to write and play what they want. It’s very clear to me that none of these tracks were ever written with the intend of being the next radio sensation. There is virtually no immediately accessible content to be found here, which is in no way bad. However, I was very surprised that not one song sounded commercial. Alot of inde bands try to release at least a couple of works that are aimed at conventional audience’s short attention spans, but not these guys; they know what they want to say through their art, and “accept us” sure as hell isn’t it! It’s all about the music with The Tea Club, no doubt about it.
The album itself has its ups and downs, as does everything, but even the lowest points on the record started to feel valid to me after the first couple of listens. The entire piece is very well orchestrated, and everything feels like it should be there. In other words, by the time I had listened to ”General Winter” all the way through the third time, nothing sounded like filler to my ears. Every note had a point, every vocal flourish was there for a reason, and the instrumentation always sounded like music. Many bands this day an age have made something of a sport out of technical playing ability, but it’s good to see that these guys know when to play alot and when to play a little. Anything frilly or technically flashy was kept in check, and never went past the comfort zone for me. It was the perfect balance of emotion and technique being expressed through the instruments.
The best tracks in my opinion are “Werewolves”, “Castle Builder”, “Purple Chukz”, “Will O’ the Wisp” and “IceClock”, but all of the songs are great. I was never bored my anything, and things only felt a little too long at one point, which upon my second listen no longer bothered me.
The influences are definately audible, but I must emphasize that The Tea Club is still a breed unto themselves. There may be traces of past bands present in their sound from time to time, but never does anything feel like a blatent rip-off, and I still can’t think of any one band that sounds even remotely similar to these guys. Trust me, this is the real deal as far as originallity is concerned. Some of the influences I managed to pick up however were Beatles, King Crimson, and even some Symphonic prog bleeding in there every now and then. But don’t think that Prog is the only thing that has influenced these guys. Interestingly enough, grunge and garage-rock also plays a significant role in this band’s exciting new sound. For every Robert Fripp-ism present, there is also an equally valid burst of energy, with distortion and aggressive power-playing. Don’t worry, this isn’t Nirvana, or anything, but there is enough heaviness to the music on this record to make it a potential listen for Rage Against the Machine fans as well as seasoned Floyd conosoiurs.
The musicians featured are very skilled. Many times the playing abilities still floor me. The Tea Club isn’t a technically virtuostic band per se, but when necessary, they can definately play some licks that are much more complex than any of the typical pop bands of this era could dream of.
So what do we have, here? We have originallity, rich amount of influences, superb, tight musicianship, music stylings and concepts that push the envelope and ultimately take music places it has never gone before. All of these things scream of Prog in it’s purest form. The talent is there, the passion is clear, and the potential is very evident. As long as these guys keep making music, and make it for the right reasons, their sound will continue to excell and grow and I just hope they recieve as much recognition as possible. They need to succeed and be heard by as many people as possible.
Bottom line: with an exciting blend of garage-rock and classic prog stylings, The Tea Club is one of the few bands in existance today who can truly say that they are completely original. Truly, I have not heard another band quite like them, and in this day in age, that is indeed saying something. This is a prime example of what actually passion and love for originallity in music can bring. As far as I am concerned, this is true Eclectic Prog in it’s purest, most valid form. “General Winter’s Secret Museum” should not be overlooked by any true progressive rock fan.
Verdict: 4 out of 5.
–Micah ‘Kain’ Rollins, musician and ProgArchives.com Collaborator.”
James Russell (www.progarchives.com)
“It is such a rush when you find one of those “new” bands that makes you smile uncontrollably, one of those bands that feels truly authentic, without the slick commercial gloss of bands whose business has been churning out product for decades. A band whose warmth makes you feel like you’d be welcome at their practice space if you showed up with the beer. A band whose energy makes you feel young again. It doesn’t hurt when the material they play is as fresh and provocative as it gets. You will be hearing more about The Tea Club, I assure you. They were a late addition to my “best of 2008” progarchives ballot, I only wish I would have had more time to spread the word before the deadline.
“General Winter’s Secret Museum” is the full length debut of New Jersey’s The Tea Club, formed in 2003 by teenage brothers Patrick and Daniel McGowan. Successfully seduced by their parent’s prog collection the guys enlisted their friend/drummer Kyle Minnick to form the foundation of their new band. I admit I was unable to follow the history of the bass players (forgive me, guys) but it appears that spot is now filled by Becky Osenenko. I don’t hear many of the influences that other writers mention when speaking of The Tea Club but I have my own answer for those who ask me what they sound like. While I would fervently preface that TTC sport a highly original personality, I could tell people that one possible description could be as follows: think of the vocal and guitar sound of the most recent Anekdoten album (A Time of Day), add the triumphant swagger of my beloved Minutemen (Double Nickels on the Dime), color the sound wall with just a bit of Kayo Dot’s provocative freedom (though much more accessible and frankly, much more fun), and finally sprinkle a bit of honest-to-goodness Pixies/Breeders/Muses melody into the mix. You will be not bludgeoned with fabricated rage, you will not be subjected to 14 minutes of egghead dissonance, and you will not forget you are supposed to be enjoying listening to this. If it isn’t obvious to you yet, yes, I love the Secret Museum (and may show up at their space to hang out with their friends….what kind of beer do you guys like?) Sorry, to the music!
The vocals, both solo and the harmonies, are marvelous. But I don’t hear the Beatles like other writers do, I hear superb lead vocals as good as Thom Yorke or anyone else at emotional articulation and well-timed falsettos. And in the harmonies I hear the Texas based Midlake (Trials of Van Occupanther.) The guitar sounds vary of course but in the softer atmospheric moments the sound makes you visualize a spider web, the chords often appearing similar, but closer listening reveals the notes to be different and more complex. Subtle pattern shifts and effective layering of the two guitar parts in these moments hold you in trance. Where other writers keep mentioning King Crimson, I believe they sound more like space-punk: gorgeous meditative, spacey guitar-scapes droning on for a bit, balanced with a rock that feels to me punk-inspired (as I felt about the excellent J’accuse album.) Minnick is as good on the kit as the McGowan brothers are on the guitars/vocals, playing with passion but also with the maturity of someone twice his age. There’s no slop on the floor around these guys and yet the music is so much warmer than the stringently mathematical types. When the big bass parts and the drums throw their weight at you it feels like running across the beach into the water full speed seeing how long you can run before you fall into the waves, that resistance of the water as you hit it, the band can be that forceful just seconds after putting you in trance. Just don’t expect to hear a bunch of shredding here, this band is not about light-speed note manufacturing. They are about the building and diffusing of moods and crafting that approach into a reasonably sane framework that is enjoyable to listen to, I believe for that reason they are well-placed in Crossover. (At least until we have our punk-prog genre dedicated to D. Boon.) Picking the standout tracks is impossible for me as I like them all but if I had to I would name “Castle Builder” and “Will o’ the Wisp,” both of which project that ethereal magic which grabs me by the throat. The album seems to get better as it goes with the second two-thirds being unbelievably strong.
The lyrics are good as well. I don’t pretend to understand all of the things they’re talking about in the more “out there” lyrics but I like the poetry of them. I do understand very well the irritation of sage-speak in “Big Al,” the capitulation of personal idealism in “Castle Builder,” and the regrets of “IceClock.” Or at least I understand what they mean to me and that they move me. We’ve all known our personal Big Als though in his defense Big Al can be pretty fun to party with. With regard to the revolutions of Castle Builder, 20 years on from the age of the TC members I have clearly misplaced mine, though listening to this band play makes it stir inside of me again. Maybe it’s not too late…which leads me into IceClock and the fates that await us. I’m not sure how much “new ground” is broken with GWSM and when you’ve heard thousands of albums how much more ground is there really? So I generally judge a band’s originality in terms of their “spark” and personality. Musicians can’t attain spark by practicing or working hard, they get only proficiency by doing those things. Spark is something you either have or you don’t. It is the mark of a great artist. Spark is what makes me want to listen to this album again as soon as it’s finished. It’s what keeps the disc on the top of the pile of 75 CDs it sits atop. The Tea Club has it, quite a bit of it actually. Can they spread it far and wide? God I hope so.
The Disc features a quality production courtesy of Tim Gilles and the Big Blue Meenie Studios. He gets an amazing sound down for these guys: light, heavy, clear, or claustrophobic depending on what the mood of the moment calls for. BBMS doesn’t think too much of PA Collabs apparently—I really wish I could share some of the hilarious sentiments posted on myspace but my review would be instantly deleted if I quoted them here. I’ll only respond by saying Tim did a great job with Tea Club, though I wonder if we all deserve to be painted with such a broad brush. But one colorful phrase he used still has me laughing “with vigor” every time I think about it. I love their artwork inside the booklet and hope they continue doing their own which is so much more meaningful than bands who use “professional album art super-star guy” because the art is coming right from the heart and mind of the person singing to you. So much cooler than the cheesy overblown nonsense on the cover of the candy-prog albums that adorn the front pages of the music sites. All of the drawings here are great but the dark home-scape behind “Werewolves” is simply perfect. [You can get this fine album for only $10 including postage, direct from their website. It was easy and they had it in my hands about 3 days later.] GWSM is not quite 5 stars yet (but might be eventually) though I believe these guys could make a masterpiece if they can keep their musical souls from being stripped bare by the time-vultures of the education and career credentialism establishments. Keep the “boot on their neck” from breaking them, as Roger Waters would put it. Although after hearing the lyrics to their track “Big Al” I don’t believe I will venture giving any advice to the brothers. From what I can tell they know exactly what they’re doing anyway. My congratulations to The Tea Club and Tim Gilles for delivering a monster debut—I wish you all the best of luck and will be spreading the word.
“there is no revolution if we’re all too frightened to die…all day we stare at the lights…know your place…that’s where we spend a lifetime…all we had…we sold for sunnier days…on no.” [a few selected moments from “Castle Builder”]”
“At the time of the election of 2008’s ProgArchives Collaborator Album of the Year, I had not heard the music of The Tea Club, otherwise they might very well have made it into my top 5 for that year.
Anyway, now that I’ve heard General Winter’s Secret Museum quite a few times, I am pretty pleased that it’s part of my music collection. Whenever I browse through the huge collection of bands available in the ProgArchives database, I come across fewer bands that I know and have heard than bands that I have never heard, nor heard of. Still, over the past few years my horizon has expanded quite a bit, and with The Tea Club I can safely say that I have not heard a band like this before. That is to say, they sound familiar in many places, but the bits that I think I recognise come from so many sources that this can be considered a unique blend. Guitars, electric and acoustic, that could be borrowed form Rush, King Crimson or Porcupine Tree, great drum work, vocals that would make many a singer very proud – including the likes of Peter Hammill, and great compositions, there’s load to listen for.
I have given up on doing full track by track reviews, but I’ll mention a few random examples of what niceties are to be found here.
The opening track, Werewolves, with a pounding rhythm defined by both the drums and the rhythm guitar explains in full why this band is in Heavy Prog. At least, until the mellow, and sometimes almost sweet instrumental interludes come by. The band is surely not afraid of contrast in a track.
Castlebuilder opens melodically with picked guitars and limited drums. The track develops into some sort of ballad, alternating between very mellow parts with only guitar and vocals to almost symphonic and more heavy parts. The track ends almost prematurely, although not as abrupt as Dream Theater’s Pull me Under, leaving the listener waiting for the conclusion. Instead, one is treated to the musical chaos of Purple Chukz, which may not have misstood on any King Crimson or Van der Graaf Generator album, which is followed by the punkesk The Clincher.
At the end of the album we find Ice Clock. This track is in some way related to Purple Chukz, but it’s more stretched and definitely more modern sounding than the Crimson flashes in that track. This track is also a good illustration of what the McGowan brothers are capable of as vocalists. I am not sure which of the two is the lead vocalist, but if they take turns there this band has the most amazing vocal army available in modern prog land.
Two things are for sure. First, if I read this review again in four months time, I will probably feel like revising it. Not because what I wrote is not true, but because I will very likely have discovered new things in it that I missed in the first two weeks of listening; this band loves diversity. Second, this album scores a perfect 4 on the PA rating scale. Five stars could be awarded in time, but I believe masterpieces have to prove themselves by standing the test of time.”
Ivan Melgar-Morey (www.progarchives.com)
“Some months ago I received a collection of demos from this good USA band with a suggestion for Symphonic, as usual we deal with what we have and had to reject the band not because of the quality, but because they are not Symphonic , there’s too much happening in THE TEA CLUB to limit them into a narrow genre, so after some time, they found a home in Crossover Prog which is wider.
A couple of weeks ago I received a request of the band to review their debut album General Winter’s Secret Museum, I told the band it’s a risk because I always say my truth and if I don’t like the music I tend to be too crude (to be sincere the samples hadn’t impressed me too much), so yesterday I received my autographed copy of the album and I’m glad to say there’s nothing to fear, the album is really strong, more than I expected, to the point that I believe they should be in Eclectic or Heavy Prog because I don’t find the mainstream connection.
As most USA bands from this new century, THE TEA CLUB presents a very elaborate and complex combination of Progressive Rock styles and different atmosphere, they master the dissonances with unusual dexterity for a young band making their debut.
Normally as a Symphonic fan I analyze the keyboards which are outstanding, but in this case the combined work of guitar and bass is simply breathtaking, this guys don’t hide nothing or leave the best for the end, they attack the listener with all they have during all the album, which IMO is an unusual demonstration of confidence in what they are doing, the band is good, they know it and exploit it but without arrogance, as the people who know what they want and go for it.
The album is opened with Werewolf, which after a short guitar intro leads to a vocal passage where the vocalist attacks with ferocity but strangely for this era where technology replaces ability to sing, the vocals are very good.
The changes are very dramatic, from almost metal sections to soft passages where a melody calms the mood, great track that somehow reminds me of King Crimson with a touch of Mike Oldfield.
Cool Smack is different to the opener, the band hits the audience from the first note, again the dissonance between instruments and vocals is a prove that we are before a group of very skilled musicians, the vocals blend with the rest of the instruments to create a solid sound, very elaborate track.
Big Al starts simpler and closer to Classic Rock with an outstanding vocal and guitar work, but the dramatic changes don’t let us forget we are before a Prog band and a very good one. As the song advances the music goes in crescendo but they manage not to explode in a sole sonic wall, they have several short bursts of strength, great drumming.
Castle Builder begins as a power ballad with a very oneiric atmosphere, flows soft and gently, but after a few seconds you notice they again go in crescendo like announcing a spectacular explosion that never happens, another strong song.
Purple Chukz is a strange combination of a solid melody with a dissonant sound, like if they were going for some Post Rock, being that it’s far too elaborate to be normal Rock, again the guitar work is fantastic
The Clincher begins at the purest KING CRIMSON style with controlled cacophony over a basic melody, the band starts to wander in some sort of Space Punk, until the vocals places their feet in the ground, frantic from start to end, love that distorted guitar that reminds me of Lark’s Tongues in Aspic.
Will O’ The Wisp is a relieving track, despite the elaborate arrangements and complex passages that reminds me a bit of THE BEATLES, probably this is the reason of their inclusion in Crossover, but hey, after a few seconds of calm,, the complexity returns, even when the melody remains intact, the guitar produces an incredibly elaborate effect, again with a touch of KING CRIMSON and believe it or not, Flamenco style.
The Moon starts as the apparently simplest song, but the excellent vocal work and apparently a keyboard takes us to a different dimension, dreamy, but interesting enough to grab the attention of the audience specially in the strongest sections.
In Ice Clock THE TEA CLUB changes their sound to an Alternative style somehow reminiscent of RADIOHEAD but with much more complexity, a strong closer for a strong album.
I very rarely give 5 starts to a debut album, specially when I believe they have more to give, and this will be no exception, 4 stars and will be waiting with impatience for their next release.
Strongly recommended for fans of good and aggressive Prog with elaborate melodies and high level of complexity.”
Raffaella Berry (www.progarchives.com)
“Before I begin my review, I want to thank the members of the band for contacting me and complimenting me on some of my King Crimson reviews. Even if, just like everyone else here, I do notwrite reviews on a professional basis, receiving kudos is always a pleasure, and even more so when it comes from quality musicians. Therefore, in spite of not being as experienced a listener of ‘modern’ prog as other reviewers are, I will try to do justice to The Tea Club’s debut album in the best way I can.
As some of my fellow reviewers have already pointed out, ‘modern’ prog is anything but easy to define. There are still many bands and artists around whose main purpose seems to be imitating (though in a very proficient way) the ‘classic’ acts of the Seventies. However, as much as we may like that vintage sound, this is not what prog is really about. Reproducing faithfully something that sounded fresh and innovative almost forty years ago can be compared to those artists who choose to copy well-known paintings, rather than produce something original: though you cannot fault the technique, the actual content leaves a lot to be desired. On the other hand, being genuinely progressive does not necessarily mean being wildly experimental, sometimes to the point of inaccessibility. In my view, the truly exciting ‘modern’ prog acts are indeed the ones who manage to combine mainstream sensibilities (as well as disparate influences) with a genuine desire to come up with something original, something that spells out ‘individual’, and not ‘derivative’.
The Tea Club’s debut album, right from its title, “General Winter’s Secret Museum”, presents the listener with a rich spread of musical proficiency, interesting vocals and lyrics, and quirky, lavish artwork –an almost mandatory component of any self-respecting prog effort. The three members of the band manage to produce an impressive volume of music that is at the same time intricate and accessible enough for those who are scared away by the more avant-garde approach of other modern prog bands. In spite of the myth that sees punk and prog as polar opposites, it cannot be denied that punk and new wave have been huge influences on the formation of modern prog (as is the bastard child of both, the nebulous ‘indie/alternative’ galaxy). This can be heard on “General Winter’s Secret Museum”, though not as clearly as, for instance, in the output of the likes of The Mars Volta.
Though The Tea Club’s music is undeniably energetic, it is never as outright aggressive that of those bands with a direct punk/hardcore derivation. The vocals (one of the most important factors for a band to be perceived as prog), shared by brothers Patrick and Dan McGowan, belong rather to the Thom Yorke/Matt Bellamy school of singing, though they luckily do not share the somewhat plaintive quality of either. On the instrumental side of things, what most impressed me were the deft, elegant bass lines (partly written by the band’s original bassist, Jim Berger), at times reminiscent of one of the greatest influences on modern Crossover Prog bands, the mighty Rush, meshing perfectly with the drums to form a powerhouse rhythm section. Drummer Kyle Minnick’s crisp, powerful style comes through right from the initial strains of “Werewolves”, the album’s opening track, a sweepingly dramatic piece of music, at times bordering on metal.
“General Winter’s Secret Museum” is such a cohesive effort that it is not easy to single out any particular tracks for analysis. Considering the very young age of the band members, their music sounds incredibly accomplished and mature, and the compositional level is consistently high. However, like everyone else I have my own personal favourites, two songs that manage to achieve the perfect blend of accessibility and progressiveness. “Big Al” starts in a rather understated way, then abruptly turns into an intricate slice of instrumental brilliance, with especially stunning bass work; while the driving, aggressive “The Clincher” has echoes of King Crimson and The Mars Volta all over it, and could point the way to interesting further developments in the band’s sound.
As I briefly remarked at the beginning of my review, I believe the album’s artwork also deserves a mention, as the visual aspect has always been an essential component of prog through the years. Dan and Patrick McGowan prove themselves as excellent artists in the intriguing, slightly sinister drawings of the CD booklet, while the cover (depicting what looks like red-hued sunset clouds) is deceptively simple. On the whole, a very stylish package for an equally stylish musical product.
The Tea Club were undoubtedly one of the biggest surprises of 2008, and dedicated prog fans should not miss the opportunity of listening to this album – unless, that is, they are so stuck in a time-warp that they cannot look beyond the classics and their numerous imitators. Hopefully they will continue to grow and progress, without losing the warmth and freshness of their approach. Four solid, well-deserved stars for an amazing debut”
“Well, if I have one hard and fast rule about music that I make no exceptions for its this: Unappealing Vocals Will Not Be Tolerated. Be assured that ‘The Tea Club’ are as far from breaking this rule as musically possible, placing them right up there with ‘Simon and Garfunkel’, ‘King’s X’, ‘Pink Floyd’ (think Echoes), ‘Genesis’ etc. That’s an amazing feat on it’s own, but its only one aspect of this fresh and extremely talented line-up.
Werewolves opens the album with a stern, pounding rhythm and continues it for about 2 minutes before hitting a nice break, which to me sounds like its all being tapped/hammered, but its not performed as a flourish it just flows with the music. This type of arrangement appears a few more times on the album. So if you’re enjoying it keep listening 😉 After a brief return to the original riff, the song falls nicely into a lovely harmonized section and gradually builds the intensity back up before sharply dropping you off at the end while you think, I need to hear that again…. If you have a progressive radio station in your area, this is the track you’ll most likely hear.
Cool Smack – This song just keep saying to me Voivod, Voivod, Viovod…….. It sounds weird, I know but I just get reminded of Nothingface and The Outer Limits when i hear it. The kicker is there is yet another fantastic slow/tempered arrangement with sweet vocal lines right in the middle of it.
Big Al – I don’t know who this song is about, but I thought of Al Gore……………and I couldn’t stop laughing. And the song is great too. Drummers will find this one especially fun as it features probably the most prog sounding moment on the whole disc starting at 1:53. Yep, if you have any doubts these folks can play, this track will help you out with that 🙂
Castle Builder – Wow, this track just seems to sway back and forth from achingly beautiful to powerfully sobering. Be sure and read the lyrics as you listen. You probably won’t get it right away and to be honest, you shouldn’t because I think there is a message here that everyone will understand differently but will ultimately be emotionally/spiritually/mentally fulfilling.
Purple Chukz – This track represents the first low spot on the album for me. The singing last about 90 seconds and the rest is all music which is okay, but the music here, aside from a brief (but awesome) acoustic spot sounds too alternative rock for my taste. Worth mentioning here, the last line of vocals is Vanity, at least I’m good at what I do and then the long jam. That’s either pure genius or unintentionally ironic.
The Clincher – The first 2 and a half minutes of this song sound like they came straight from a Foo Fighters album. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Foo Fighters and those 2 and a half minutes are good, but the rest of the song has a jazzy, almost lounge band thing going on, which is great as well but it makes the song seem thrown together….hmmm unless that’s what they were shooting for……
Will O’ The Wisp – The best track on the album has to be this one. I insist that you hear it yourself. No, scratch that.. I COMMAND IT!!
The Moon – Who let ‘Simon and Garfunkel’ in here, seriously? The opening has great vocal harmonies after that it kinda falls into the same category as Purple Chukz.
Ice Clock – A nice medium tempo song to close out the album. This one features some very unusual vocal lines in parts that remind me of ‘Boingo’ for some reason. It has a great buildup and wraps up things nicely, I only wish it had a more majestic feel too it at the end.
‘The Tea Club’ have defined their own sound and identity, while presenting a nearly irreproachable album from start to finish. For a first release, that is an amazing accomplishment.
“Just occasionally, I need to recap on what is actually progressive rock. I place progressive rock into either Symphonic prog , progressive Metal, progressive jazz, progressive instrumental, e.g. Gandalf and progressive folk. That is generally the European point of view. The other point is the American slant where bands like Saga, King Crimson etc. come into the equation. The Americans then try and get clever and tag another label on it, that being Art Rock. The high street media then jumped on the band wagon and threw bands like Radiohead and such into this pool calling them progressive. The Europeans then added stuff like Moon Garden’s “Round Midnight” album and Amber Light into the Art Rock melting pot. I may as well stand up now and state that Radiohead and such are not progressive, not in the least, although they are all superb examples of modern rock. A few years back the American bands Alloy Now, Plastic Overlords and John Miner released CD’s all deemed art rock, most were relatively very good.
We now turn to the Philadelphia, New Jersey based band Tea Club and what a surprise they turned out to be. I’m actually quite excited about them. This whole album has great vocals, production and arrangements and should place them in the bracket of being the next big thing given the right break.
Tea Club are boxing very clever because they’ve soaked up so many influences, by accident or design only they can say. In so doing they have found the secret of crossing many genres or, if you like, catching a wide audience. I’ve read that this band are progressive. Well, if I had to say if anything here faintly resembles progressive rock then it would have to be the track “Purple Chukz”. It’s down to the change of direction half way through with its chord progression that leads into the final minute or so.
The tracks on their “Myspace” site do not really tell the full story because listening to the remainder of this album it becomes instantly obvious how heavy this band really are. First and foremost they are a guitar based indie rock band, a pretty loud and complex one and dare I say, occasionally chaotic when they break into improvised sounding guitar sections. This is demonstrated perfectly on “Werewolves”, “Cool Smack”, “Big Al” and “The Clincher”.
The beauty of Tea Club is in the overall way the vocals are layered within some of these songs. The two brothers share the vocal position and it’s these vocals that give this album its broad appeal, kinda like a head on collision of early REM, Radiohead and The Beach Boys on speed, you’ll especially hear these harmonies on, “Ice Clock” and “Will O’ The Wisp”. Another thing that points to Radiohead is the way the vocals move between the higher and lower register on “Castle Builder”. This track is sort of a rendezvous of influences and is the one to listen to if you are new to their music. For me, it’s this song that typifies the best of Tea Club.
There’s another band they sound like but I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it, then it hit me after listening several more times to “Will O’ The Wisp” and “The Moon” with its chiming guitars, it had hints of The Cosmic Roughrider’s, “Have You Heard The News Today”. There’s a big however here though, Tea Club are far darker, deeper, edgier and not so happy sounding.
It shouldn’t matter where your taste lies, you should get enjoyment from this album, it’s highly addictive. As you can see by the confusion of influences, it’s hard to categorise them without putting your head on the chopping block, let’s just say whatever direction Tea Club are heading they are damn good. Listen to them for yourselves, I think you may well like this band. If I had to pick a side to their music that I preferred the most then it would have to be the more reflective side, being “Castle Builder”, “Will O’ The Wisp” and “The Moon”. 90%”
Keith ‘Muzikman’ Hannaleck (www.muzikreviews.com)
“The Tea Club sounds like a perfectly innocent and unassuming name but do not let the serene CD cover and band name fool you. As you will learn when you open up the General Winter’s Secret Museum CD the sleeve enclosed and the artwork does get a bit more interesting and the lyrics are included to set your mind reeling.
This band sings and plays with ferocity and purpose. While only three members comprise this progressive rock unit, they sound like much more. A full sound comes at you constructed with guitars, drums, and bass as it swoops down and sucks you into every hair-raising storyline.
The Tea Club is Patrick McGowan (vocals, bass, and guitar) with Brother Dan (vocals, guitar) and Kyle Minnick (drums).
As things kick off the album you are immediately brought into the macabre with “Werewolves.” This is a potent tool for mesmerizing you and creating interest and excitement about what you are hearing while intently listening to their own personal take on the legendary transformation from man to beast. Guitars, bass and drums thunder as Pat McGowan bellows “I just need a little time, this is my Mr. Hyde… well I am down and I am wearin’ thin, I can’t help but keep hurting you”, as the words roll off his tongue they cut like a knife right through you. As all of this unfolds, all I can think of is a Halloween night where The Beatles meet King Crimson and they start jamming. This vision kept coming to me throughout the run of this CD. Low and behold, their biggest influences happen to be two of the bands I just mentioned, so there is no shock here, just a bit of validation from the perspective of a listener and music fan. This was the best song on the album and marvelous way to introduce themselves to potential listeners while simultaneously creating some interest to hear more.
I bet some of you are wondering where they came up with the title for the album. I am always pondering what the title and artwork mean. If it is not obvious and in this case, that applies, you have to wonder what the significance is and just how it all ties in to the big picture of a project. The term General Winter, is a name used for the horrible weather the Germans experienced while trying to invade Russia in World War 2. Pat McGowan then added in the rest of the title and the band loved it.
The title track of all things gets the boot because the band thought it did not flow with the rest of the album. In this case, they should have put it at the close of the album and I do not think removing that track was the best decision.
At times, they do pull off some beautiful Beatles like harmonizing so the thought process may have been that this would easily cross over to pop-rock territory. Regardless of those elements, the fans that listen to this music expect bombastic opuses lasting 7-12 minutes, it is the norm, the music is far from being top forty or pop and it does not take long after hearing the way the tracks come at you that they are doing their best to make a progressive album. If you want to hear the title track then visit the band’s profile here mybandsmusic.com/members/680/ where you actually can listen to 15 tracks with the option to purchase and find out for yourself where they are coming from. If anything, it entices people to go check it out, so that is a positive gained from a somewhat odd decision to eliminate the title track.
Getting back to the rest of the album-it is solid, not a great piece of work but very good and this band has the potential to be great. What I heard was a steady blend of music that did tend to go back and forth in waves of varying sounds and emotions, which is the standard for the genre. The variations with rhythms, beats and guitars are interesting and definitely not something that you would hear on the radio…there are no 4/4 time syncopations or drum click tracks buzzing in the ear of their drummer, no way. Besides the lead off track, this album did tend to flow together too easily from track to track for this type of music.
What I think needs work here is to develop more complexity with the song structures they already have, which are excellent, by simply adding some layered keyboards or a driving Hammond B3 on a regular basis. With that, the entire picture could change and they may very well become the band they always dreamed of being. Again, this is just the beginning for them and it is a real good start. They wrote all the songs, which is impressive. For three people they make some noise and it will remind you fondly of some other great trios that have come and gone since the inception of progressive rock. They reached their goal to get a stripped down sound removing things like a flute and so forth. Perhaps on the next outing those things will remain with additional instruments to beef up their sound and then they will blossom, as I would expect.”
John Davie (www.progarchives.com)
“3.5 stars. Well i’ve heard this 7 times so far and would describe the music here as modern,energetic and powerful. Like avestin i too was reminded of both DREDGE and OCEANSIZE. That combination of good vocals with often frenzied and powerful soundscapes dominates. “Werewolves” opens with heavy drums that eventually lead the way and then vocals join in. It settles after 1 1/2 minutes and then the vocals come back with more passion.Another calm before 3 minutes as vocal melodies arrive. Check out the Post-Rock style guitar before 5 1/2 minutes! “Cool Smack” hits the ground running and i find this song kind of noisy,lots going on. That is until 2 1/2 minutes in,but then it starts to build again. Ripping guitar after 4 1/2 minutes. The acoustic guitar melodies to end it sound great. “Big Al” is a top 3 track for me. This just sounds so good,especially the vocals. It turns to an all instrumental track from 2 minutes to the end.Sounds like KING CRIMSON’s Discipline with the intricate guitar melodies. “Castle Builder” opens with gentle guitar,while vocals are reserved as they arrive before a minute. A heavy undercurrent does roll in. “Purple Chukz” reminds me that my daughter has a pair of green ones,and a pair of black ones. Haha. This song has a nice heavy sound to it.An acoustic guitar break ends 3 minutes in. Some excellent bass in this one.I like the vocals a lot. “The Clincher” features a good aggressive sound. It does settle before 3 minutes although it’s dark. The guitar comes in and gets louder and louder.Nice. “Will O’ The Wisp” is another top 3 track for me. It’s lighter to start out but it gets pretty heavy by the 2 minute mark.Great bass and drum work here. The drumming really stands out 3 1/2 minutes in with those chunky bass lines. “The Moon” opens with acoustic guitar as lighter vocals come in.Harmonies too. The tempo picks up before a minute.More killer bass before 3 1/2 minutes.It ends as it began. “IceClock” is my other top 3 song if your keeping score at home.Drums and vocals sound so good here. A calm after 2 minutes but then it does kick back in. Nice bass in this one as well from Dan the guitar man. I wonder what this band will pour us on the next one,until then i will continue to play this one in hopes it grows to a 4 star rating.”
Assaf Vestin (www.progarchives.com)
“I got to know The Tea Club after being contacted by Dan from the band since he read my praises for their friends, the NJ based eclectic rock band, The Fun Machine. With clear vocals and powerful guitars and drums, the band plays what sounds like straightforward rock at first, but their musicianship and the intricacies and small twists and various parts in their songs help the outcome achieve what is more than just that original statement.
A warm and heavy chopping guitar riff is your reception as The Tea Club’s album starts, evolving into a higher volume song which reminds me a bit of Dredg and Oceansize; however, the band does not stagnate as they present changes within the song about two and a half minutes in, showing a more laid back form, still with the same rich sound. The album in general has a heavy sound to it and the mood alternates from slightly sad to somewhat angry and energetic to moderately happy and anything between those. As one can infer from that, it also means that there is changes in tempo and volume of the music accordingly to appropriately convey these feelings. Thus, the variety comes into play in the compositions and in the spirit they create.
This album will appeal to those who like a creative take on rock, making it more than just another rock band. Song like Big Al, Purple Chukz and The Clincher are very good example of that. It is also a direction I would love to see the band take more and progress to in their future releases. This is definitely where they shine and present their most interesting and captivating ideas, work and playing. A song like Castle Builder shows their more straightforward approach at song writing, which is also effective with its melody and warm rich sound and the melancholic atmosphere it creates. Aside from that, they write quite compelling music, and while I did not find it too catchy, it’s definitely enjoyable and very pleasant to listen to and requires several listening “sessions” to grasp it fully. This is a very well produced album with beautiful music and a gripping tone. I am looking forward to their next release.”
Let it Rock – DME Music Site (www.dmme.net)
“Derelict dirges driving desperation away. Keep your secrets stashed so well.
However futuristic they might be, most prog rock bands, the genre’s name notwithstanding, cast their collective glances, stylistics-wise, to the past – too afraid to sound too modern to be filed under “Prog”. This New Jersey quartet, the brainchild of singing guitarists Patrick and Dan McGowan, are different, they’re living in the intense “here and now” which bares its teeth with the misty, if desperate, march of “Werevolves” where soft passages instil more fear than the preceding onslaught. In the multi-layered “Big Al” the band show their mastery of Frippery but do it with much bile and gusto, while the sublime “The Moon” puts forward the brothers’ vocal harmonies and the folky undertow, and there’s a grandiosity hidden in “Castle Builder”. Still, it’s the closing “Ice Clock” their utmost magical moment which indeed might point to a great future.”
“The Tea Club’s musicianship is the group’s bread-and-butter; their focused and disciplined use of dynamics sets them apart from bands that adhere strictly to the LOUD-quiet-LOUD model. They are reminiscent of bands like Explosions In the Sky, Radiohead and TV On the Radio in that they are capable of lulling an audience quietly into a trance just before sending them into a whiplash-inducing tail-spin of feedback, grungy duet vocals and pummeling percussion.
Most “modern rock” groups place a premium on immediacy, on delivering the goods right away. They push forward to a predictable catharsis with the urgency of a bullet-train and are then left with nothing to do but bask in an overly-long, manufactured moment that feels cheap, unearned and, frankly, easy. The Tea Club forgo this obvious, “a-ha!” style of songwriting in favor of a measured, simmering approach that delivers cathartic moments that are “deserved,” that don’t feel like the result of a conscious attempt on the part of the musicians to spring an ambush on their audience.
Many prog-rock acts fall flat in a live setting. The Mars Volta have been known to play an hour-long set consisting of only three songs, one of which being a nearly forty-minute jam so wrought with electronics, pedals and switches that an audience member might be forgiven for assuming that he or she was listening to a serious of intercepted alien radio communications or, perhaps, a pair of cyborg-whales in the midst of a heated argument. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead have been known to take nearly forty-five minutes just to set up their equipment. These are both bands that I love but let’s face it: prog doesn’t always translate well to the stage. The Tea Club are a lucky and intense exception to that rule; they play blistering guitar parts note-for-note, they break strings and keep playing, they roll on the floor and beat the shit out of their instruments and knock things over and improvise when they feel like it but only enough to get the point across. “Energetic” and “prog” are often thought of as mutually exclusive adjectives (take a look at the sometimes stiff, always completely goofy performances by Jethro Tull on youtube for the perfect example) but the Tea Club overcome both the stereotype of the buttoned-up, classically-minded prog band and the loose, sloppy live-band.
The Tea Club will lower taxes, increase benefits for the needy, socialize health-care and not embarrass themselves while bowling.
The Tea Club will strike a chord (and, more often than not, turn it into an arpeggio) with music listeners who want music that will challenge them to think while they listen, and not just about the lyrics. The South Jersey quartet is doing complex stuff onstage and doesn’t seem to mind following a muse just to see where it leads them. The Tea Club are “experimental rock” in the sense that they are willing to toy with rock music on the formal level and not merely on the purely aesthetic, “spot-that-influence” level.”
“It’s easy to be innovative if you don’t care if your music is good. If ingenuity is your only aim, you could sing along with barnyard animal samples, play the guitar with pinecones and chant recipes while rubbing the rim of a wine glass and you would be fine. But on their latest CD, “General Winter’s Secret,” New Jersey rockers The Tea Club manage to achieve something almost as rare as unicorn sightings – marrying an enjoyable, agreeable sound with uniqueness, artistry and creativity.
The strength of that sound, like the source of Flash Gordon’s superpowers, is hard to pinpoint. They have a jaunty, abrasive, Queens of the Stone Age quality, an artistically weird-but-approachable tendency reminiscent of Radiohead, and a lead singer, Patrick McGowan, delivers a vocal performance not-unlike Thom Yorke.
The band’s sound also bears similarities to indie radio regulars like The Muse and Audrey Sessions, although they are distinctly less polished. Not for lack of effort, but rather because The Tea Club is first and foremost an alternative band. Any pop-worthy frills – and there are plenty – are simply icing on the cake.
It’s hard to miss the band’s signature changes in time, tempo and anything else that can be retooled in the middle of a song. Often unexpected but rarely out of place, they appear suddenly like a ninja, giving the songs a multidimensional quality and more layers than a four-cheese lasagna.
Although there is a lot to like about The Tea Club I thought the vocals were the most promising feature and the one that will most set this band apart from its progressive genre peers. McGowan has great range, imagination, passionate delivery and an appealing tonal quality that even Simon Cowell would have to acknowledge.
My favorite song is “Werewolf.” It featured all of the aforementioned elements, a dash of Green Day and some Beach Boy style harmonies. That’s got to be a first, and unless Josh Homme, Brian Wilson and Billy Joe Armstrong decide to form a band, it will almost certainly be the last, too.
“General Winters Secret” is an interesting album. It’s progressive. It’s experimental. It’s hard to follow sometimes, but above all, it’s fun to listen to.
Music Street Journal (www.musicstreetjournal.com)
“When I got this disc I was told that it was progressive rock. I have to say that when I first put it in I didn’t think that was true. As I listened to more of the album, though, I’d have to agree for the most part. These guys play an intriguing amalgamation of punk rock, alternative and both modern and old school progressive rock styles. It’s a safe bet that prog purists won’t embrace this, but it’s a cool disc – despite the fact that a few of the tracks don’t do that much for me.
Track by Track Review
This comes in feeling like it might launch into something akin to modern King Crimson. When they fire out into the song proper, though, this is more like emo goes alternative rock. There’s a prog rock journey mid song that has a lot in common with Yes, while still reflecting some of that alternative rock sound. They take it back out to a more powered up version of the song proper from there. Then it drops back to a sedate and intricate interlude and as non-lyrical vocals come over the top I’m reminded a bit of Radiohead with some hints of old school King Crimson. Eventually this is worked into a neo-prog mellow journey for the lyrical vocals in this section. It gets pretty intense as carries on.
This is very much in an alternative rock goes modern prog motif. They carry on like that through a good chunk of the song. There’s a bombastic burst of instruments later in the track and then a mellow acoustic rock section to take it out.
An alternative rock sound leads this in. There’s a bit of Stone Temple Pilots goes Beatles here. There are some prog changes on this but overall it’s got those two sounds listed above with a bit of punk added to the mix. They drop it back around the two minute mark and then take us out in a swirling modern King Crimson sort of excursion. From there we are taken out into another excursion that’s perhaps more keeping with modern prog along with some Yes in the mix. This gets quite complex and involved. It’s one of the coolest segments of the disc. We get a bit of a mellower segment later in the track to take it out.
A modern prog ballad approach meets a sound that reminds me of mid-period King Crimson. This is a cool piece of music and at times reminds me of Porcupine Tree and other modern prog acts.
The early parts of this have a Kings X meets old school prog texture. They shift it out to something later that’s a bit in line with Red era King Crimson. They take this through a number of changes and there’s actually a part later that makes me think of Yes paired up with Radiohead. This is one of the most dynamic and diverse cuts on the set. It’s also one of my favorites.
King Crimson merges with punk raunch and roll on the energized opening to this. The bulk of this is more alternative rock meets emo, but there are still some fairly purely prog segments. They drop it out to a stripped down, slow moving psychedelia meets King Crimson movement later in the cut. It’s got as much to do with jam bands as it does with prog rock. They work in some fusion later, too.
Will O’ the Wisp
A mellower piece, this is pretty and very prog oriented. It’s more like a prog ballad and more along the lines of bands like Porcupine Tree, but I also hear some California Guitar Trio and some King Crimson in this. Mid track they power this up a bit, but don’t really change the musical road map beyond increasing the intensity. There’s a section later that’s more like modern King Crimson.
Acoustic balladic stylings make up the first minute or so of this cut. It’s another that makes me think of early King Crimson, but there’s a more modern bent to it, too. They power this motif up as they continue and some Eastern stylings come across. They alternate this with a more intensified take on the ballad stylings of the first section of the track. The instrumental journey later is quite intense and very much in a King Crimson sort of style – older version of the band – with some Radiohead elements added to the mix.
This one is perhaps a bit more straightforward, but it’s also quite certainly prog rock. They do take us through a number of changes and alterations on this exciting journey.
Review by Gary Hill”
Progressive Rock & Progressive Metal (www.progressiverockbr.com)
“The progressive rock band The Tea Club has it’s beginnings in Deptford, New Jersey in the late 1990’s, where Patrick McGowan, then a young teenager, began to teach himself guitar. Growing up in a family where music was so incredibly important, it was inevitable; Patrick’s father was himself an accomplished guitarist and songwriter, and had retired from pursuing a professional career in music in the 1980’s to raise his family. After years of teaching themselves to write and play listening to mum and dad’s record collection, which included such monsters as “Yes”, “King Crimson”, and “The Beatles”, Pat and Dan decided the wanted to form a band. Long time friend and drummer, Kyle Minnick was a natural choice since they shared similar musical influences and Bassist, James Berger rounded out the quartet. The band’s first show was to a small crowd in an abandoned peach factory. Word spread fast about the bands talent and this earned them rave reviews. Since then the band have been playing regular shows at Venue’s throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania and have developed a loyal following. After two years with the band Bassist Jim Berger decided that this was the right time to pursue other interests. Between the inception and Fall 2006, the band independently recorded four EP’s. With the tracking of the record behind them, The Tea Club once again went in search of a bass player, and another long time friend Becky Osenenko fitted the bill. The Tea Club is a North American Progressive Rock band, strongly influenced by early seventies guitar, drum, bass and vocal-oriented Progressive Heavy Rock. The band offers all kind of instrumental elements found in the years 70′, adding modern arrangements, originaly composed by amazing four young musicians, that together developed a special way to play an impressive and modern Progressive Rock music, always exploring different influences, full of creativity and energy. From symphonic to thunderous arrangements, but always precise into an unique kind of musical line, the music from The Tea Club, captures a wide range of expressions through amazing melodies but with dynamic instrumentation. The Tea Club successfully combines the sounds of “Yes”, “King Crimson”, “Porcupine Tree”, “Gentle Giant”, “Frost”, “Paatos”, “OSI” and “Pain of Salvation”, mixing many different styles into one extremely captivating piece of music. “General Winter’s Secret Museum” was produced and mixed by Tim “Rumblefish” Gilles, Engineered by Kevin “Iceman” Neaton, Matt “Dasher” Messenger. Recorded at Big Blue Meenie Studio’s Jersey City, N.J. Mastered by Alan Douches with Tim Gilles at West West Side Music, including nine tracks, almost 50min of pure musical emotions. A special and particular attention to and my favourite songs are: “Werewolves”, “Cool Smack” and “Big Al” (true songs that leads us to the beginning of the glorious seventies), “Castle Builder”, “Will O’ the Wisp” and “IceClock” (I think are the best songs on the album), “Purple Chukz” and “The Moon”. Overall, “General Winter’s Secret Museum” is a very well done album and I can consider The Tea Club a true “Progressive Rock band with an amazing musical talent, full of originality and great potential. The Line-up on the band are: Patrick McGowan – Vocals and Guitar, Dan McGowan – Guitar and Vocals, Kyle Minnick – Drums and Becky Osenenko – Bass. Brilliant and indispensable work, highly recommendable… (Comments by Carlos Vaz)”
Hailing from the New Jersey area, The Tea Club releases their debut album entitle General Winter’s Secret Museum in 2008. At the time the band was a trio which consisted of Patrick McGowan (vocals, bass, guitar), along with his brother Dan (vocals, guitar) and Kyle Minnick (drums). Together this trio created some magical music on their debut from beginning to end.
From the opening “Werewolves” (6:09), which captures the listener and lock them in for a ride of their life. Ending the ride is “Ice Clock”(5:08). The music on this album is a mixture of Radiohead, King Crimson (Red-Disciple) and The Beatles. Just as soon as the album is over, you want to hear it again.
This is one of those albums that captivated me with each of the tracks. Very seldom does that happen to me. Some of the highlights for me, besides the opening track are “Big Al” (6:12) with it’s very infectious Beatles like melodies. Then the band shows it’s more melodic side with “Castle Builder” (4:38).
The band then goes full on Beatles mixed with Radiohead vibe on “The Moon” (4:41). The song has a perfect mixture of mellow and aggressive moments. I could listen to this song over and over, which is the case on the entire album.
In closing, The Tea Club has created an absolutely wonderful debut album that goes down as one of my all time favorite albums of all time. This is also the beginning of a fruitful career, as the has qualities that would cater both the mainstream and progressive rock audiences. The band currently has two albums out but I really think it’s best to start at the beginning.
Reviewed by Ron Fuchs on April 26th, 2011, 2011