Wednesday 30 October 2013

Paradox (Kansas, 1977)

One of the most exciting and enthralling Kansas' tracks, a fast tempo where all the instruments shoot like smoking guns. Take the violin, for example. In the middle instrumental section it runs faster than light. Mr. Walsh sings like a madman and the whole song is like a race against the time. Less than 4 minutes are enough to convince evrybody that Kansas were at their heights in their "Point of Know Return" album.

Kansas discography: a box full of jewels.

The interplays and the choral performance of the band simply struck me down and the folk and prog elements are just as one: images of dusty deserts and urban landscapes flow away before our mind's eye and when such a display of skills finally comes to an end, we're breathless and happy as we had won the Olympic Games. Wow...

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Io e il tempo (Nuova Era, 1992)

It's impossible to describe here my first reactions when listening to this suite, the title track of Nuova Era's third album, released in 1992. First of all, I feltt many years younger. It was like going back to places I once knew and loved... classical Italian prog of old was coming back to life. But this dejà vu effect wasn't all, 'cause this suite is an excellent piece of music, well written, well performed and well arranged. The melodies are excellent and their reprises are cleverly organised all along the track.

Out of the blue... the good ol' prog was back, stronger than ever.

The instrumental passages are sweet and solid, featuring pleasant interplays between keyboards and guitars. Walter Pini, the mind behind Nuova Era, signed here one of his finest achievements, IMHO, and his brother Ivan provided some very good lyrics about time, childhood and getting old, filled with gentle melancholy. The miracle with this track is that it really sounds new and fresh, despite all the its musical quotations. Really, one of my favourites ever.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Farewell to Old Friends (Sylvan, 2012)

Sylvan's 2 CD album "Sceneries" is a collection of 5 suites of songs and this "Farewell to Old Friends" is the last one. The German band start with a beautiful soft rock ballad including some instrumental passages à la Radiohead, then the rythm rises up just a little and the second catchy and syncopated song comes in, with  a chorus supported by some synfonic keys. Another turning stage and we're in a melodic section Marco Glühmann sings with a growing passion.

Sylvan are enjoying a growing (and deserved) success.

Then, Jan Petersen's electric guitar introduces a heavier and mainly instrumental track with a solid (and difficult) bass and guitar interplay leading to a final and piercing guitar solo. And here, when the last guitar note still lingers on, the piano comes in to draw the background of the last, sweet but not sweetish song. This one features a very good theme and a dreamy guitar solo I especially like. A majestic finale for an excellent suite, the kind of songs that let me think: "Oh my, prog will never die!".

Friday 25 October 2013

Looking for A Platform (Abel Ganz, 2008)

When Abel Ganz came back in 2008 with their "Shooting Albatross" CD, I was simply amazed. I knew their '80s and '90s music, a fine neo-prog specimen, but this time there was something more. Take this opening epic, for example. It's a 15 minute suite based on beautiful riffs and themes and always movins, changing, weaving, diversifying.

The way we were... Abel Ganz in their '80s line up!
The first extra feature is the abundant use of acoustic instruments, so well merged with the rock outfit. Another winning point is the effective musical architecture, lining up gentle and lively sections, theme variations and reprises, slightly folk influences, solos and instrumental drawings. It sounds like Genesis meet Mostly Autumn... and that's saying something! Yes, I admit I like this track very much and I heartily hope Abel Ganz will come back again with another prog gift.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Douce-amère (Maneige, 1977)

This delicious instrumental track comes from the album "Ni vent... ni nouvelle", by one of the most important '70s Québec prog bands. The slight jazzy sound meets here a series of acoustic instruments and a classic influence. The first part of the track is delicate and fizzy, dominated by a xylophone, while in the second half the electric guitar and a stronger rythm section add some solid rock texture to the music.

"Ni vent.. ni nouvelle" was the third album by Maneige.
Maybe these two parts correspond to the adjectives in the song title ("Douce-amère" meaning "Bittersweet" or, litterally, "Sweet-Bitter"). The theme is well written and - most of all - well exploited by the band, with pleasant tempo and volume variations. A lively and enjoyable piece of prog indeed.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Le voleur d'extase (Atoll, 1975)

Here's a very, very good specimen of '70s French progressive rock. Taken from "L'araignée mal", released in 1975, this 7'33" track has got everything you need. First, there's a beautiful and sweet sung theme. Second, this theme is interspersed with excellent instrumental passages, Third, there's a clever fusion of electric and acoustic instruments, among which I bring Richard Aubert's violin to your attention.

This cover art was drawn by Yves Uro, also from Metz,
a talented poster artist untimely dead in 1995.

And last but not least, even if the tracks reminds now and there some British bands (Yes, Mahavishu Orchestra and Genesis, but also Gentle Giant), this is a highly original piece of music with a strong French touch. Complex and elaborated, "Le voleur d'extase" can also be gentle and plain, melting jazzy and melodic sections, loud and caressing moments. Yes, those Metz-based musicians knew very well how to be rock and romantic. Listen to this, then let me know...

Sunday 20 October 2013

Seasons End (Marillion, 1989)

As you probably presumed, I like Marillion. And this for many reasons, including this one: they can write songs both prog and catchy. "Seasons End" is one of my favourite ones in this style. Plain as it is, this track is also a brilliant and deep example of prog ballad, where a beautiful melody meets a clever arrangement and, of course, a dreamy Steve Rothery's guitar solo. The lyrics about climate change are worth a careful listening (and eventual reading):

Marillion's line up for "Seasons End": welcome, Mr. H!

We'll tell our children's children why
We grew so tall and reached so high ,
We left our footprints in the earth
And punched a hole right through the sky.

We'll tell them how we changed the world
And how we tamed the sea.
And seasons they'll never know
In England.

The instrumental section leading to the end of the song is also one of my favourite moments, both gentle and tight, with Hogarth's lead voice in the background. Here (and elsewhere too) Mark Kelly leaves his trace choosing the most effective sounds for the song and its message. Excellent song, if ever one was written.

Saturday 19 October 2013

Sé de un lugar (Triana, 1975)

Coming from "El Patio", the first and maybe best known album by Triana, this track is simply stunning, with Jesus de la Rosa's warm voice, spanish guitars, fully progressive keyboards and all the classic features of the so called "Flamenco rock". You'll also find here some acid sounds and a splendid specimen of cante jondo, the deepest and most charming genre of Flamenco.

"El Patio" is one of the greatest albums I've ever listened to.
As usual with Triana, you can't really tell the Spanish folk influence from the Progressive rock taste: they created a new standard, often imitated and never overdone. The dramatic atmosphere of this track is further emphasized by the electric guitar, provided by guest Antonio Perez, another welcome and winning point. Last but not least, the tempo changes add a synphonic pace to the song... isn't it enough?

Friday 18 October 2013

A Tower of Silence (Anubis, 2011)

Here's a slow, majestic, melodic song from a very interesting Australian sixpiece band. It's the title track of their second album and really shines for its vocal arrangements and its beautiful instrumental sections. The prog masters are there, of course, you'll find hints of Pink Floyd or Genesis music (even Alan Parsons Project's), but the whole lot is something new and modern, a translation, not a revival.
Anubis' second album cover art.
I especially appreciate the clear, neat sound and the calm lead vocals, but they all deserve a mention, these guys. There's also a very good fusion of electric and acoustic instruments, with - for example - a charming flute work over a keyboards background. It's relaxing, but also a deep invitation to meditation.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Astronomy Domine (Pink Floyd, 1967)

It is Always difficult to say something more about such a famous and inspiring song. "Astronomy Domine" is the opening track of the first Pink Floyd's album, "The Piper at The Gates of Dawn" and one of the most strictly linked to Syd Barrett, the first and not forgotten leader of the band. Music and lyrics draw the picture of a fantastic stellar trip Barrett did under the LSD influence. The bass line is somewhat distressing and the dramatic and psychedelic repetition of sounds and rythms enhance the gloomy mood.

Syd Barrett singing "Astronomy Domine".

But there is also a synfonic though chaotic wall of sound describing a whirling universe, something like a Van Gogh's sky. I also like the working sub-title of this song, "An Astral Chant", reminding me of an ancient ritual, the well known unusual chord progression and the hypnotic series of planet and moon names in the lyrics. The word for all that is devastating.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

The Pelican Lie (Twin Age, 1997)

If you have some spare time this night and you need some well done classical, Genesis-oriented prog rock, this song is for you. It's a 14 minute epic from "Lialim High", the second album by Twin Age, another interesting Swedish band. Yes, it's a Genesis influenced track and you have a bit of "Cinema Show" here and a bit of "Entangled" there, yet "The Pelican Lie" is a fresh and pleasant suite, full of good music and charming changes.

A very good band I certainly recommend to Old Prog fans.

These boys like synphonic and creative rock, they know how to diversify a long song like this one and how to add in it some strong feelings. They're also very clever in alternating themes and instruments, solos and walls of sound. Most of all, they never forget to forge some good melodies and this epic is a perfect specimen of traditional progressive rock revisited with respect and with enthusiasm.

Monday 14 October 2013

Cap'taine coeur de miel (Ange, 1978)

This 14 minute epic from the album "Guet-apens" is probably one of the best tracks by the French band Ange. I certainly like it very much. The first half of the suite lays on Christian Decamp's passionate and theatrical vocals, a stunning performance winding between drama and irony and describing an adventurous sea dog reminiscent of both Jules Verne and Arthur Rimbaud.

"Guet-apens" is often considered as the last fully prog Ange's album.

The second half is more arcane and slow. Here Decamps turns towards an inner and painful note, powerfully supported by a piercing electric guitar. There's a growing sense of frustration, as the volume rises up and the final guitar solo takes the form of a majestic cry of pain. Yes, this honey-hearted captain is a great experience for all prog children around there.

...And Then There Were 200...

Yes, next post will introduce the 200th song of my little collection. As always, this is not intended as a self-congratulation (I hope I'll do something better in my life than writing 200 posts in a blog!), but as a thanksgiving to all this place visitors.

You're really kind, my friends, and it's great to welcome you all here. Make yourselves at home and please let me know what you like and what you dislike.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Illusions on A Double Dimple (Triumvirat, 1974)

This long suite (6 parts and more than 23 minutes) is the title track of 1974 Triumvirat's album, probably the best one in this German act's career, recorded during 1973. This track a well written and melodic epic, including effective themes and a wide range of pleasant arrangements, so that you're surprised to know they were just a trio then. If elsewhere the band used to go too far with special effects and magniloquent keys, here they created a well balanced architecture, standing on solid compositions. Starting with Flashback, a delicate piano & voice intro, the suite goes on with Schooldays, a section including a very good keyboard work and another nice vocal theme.

Triumvirat were a bass-drums-keyboards trio in 1974.

Triangle is an instrumental, vaguely jazz-oriented part, where Fritz proves his skills on keyboards, supported by the rythm section. Then comes the short Illusions, featuring a tight vocal performance, followed by a faster section called Dimplicity, reminiscent of late '60s pop-rock... it could be a Kinks' song! Last Dance is the final section, debuting with a wild piano, then featuring all the keys you can hope for. Here, some ruthm & voice arrangements à la Yes announce the final acceleration. A very good example of traditional progressive rock with a welcome theatrical scent.

Saturday 12 October 2013

Afterwards (Van Der Graaf Generator, 1969)

Each tyime I listen to "Afterwards" I wonder how on Earth VDGG could write and perform such a deep song in their debut album. Well, luckily they could. It's a 5 minute jewel track, based on keyboards, clever drumming and the sensitive Peter Hammill's vocals. The dark atmosphere is somehow softened by a pleasant melody and a relaxing tempo, while the electric piano / Hammond organ plots and the wah-wah guitar add some a peculiar (and psychedelic) stress to the song.

The VDGG's line-up for "The Aerosol Gery Machine" (1969).

Even if the album "The Aerosol Grey Machine" was originally planned as a Hammill's solo work, the band here acts like a band should, interacting and improving each other's contribution. "Afterwards" is a prog ballad, one of the rare specimens of "traditional" song structure in VDGG's discography, but nothing is really traditional, when it come to Hammill & friends.

Friday 11 October 2013

Homesick I-III (Airbag, 2011)

As the title suggests, this 17 minute and three part epic is a nostalgy song, taken from Airbag's "All Rights Removed". This Norwegian band's main influence is a Floydian one, but I wouldn't say they are just a derivative Group. In fact, there's more than Pink Floyd meet Radiohead here: first of all, there's a really good music. The first part, the only sung section, features an excellent ballad, slow and airy, performed with a sweet and impeccable voice by Asle Tostrup, then keyboards come in and the space atmosphere rules the section, paying an implicit tribute to Rick Wright and to "Shine on You Crazy Diamond".

Airbag as pictured by Arthur Haggenburg for Background Magazine.
They were part of Progdreams festival in the Netherlands (2012).

The final section is dominated by the (Gilmour-esque, of course) electric guitar and proves how much the band worked on their original model in order to simplify and modernize the sound and the composition. The final result is excellent: not only the '70s Floyd mood is preserved, but it is respectfully translated in a contemporary musical language, focusing on melancholy and introspection. That's whay I think this track is worth both your attention and a place in my blog.

Thursday 10 October 2013

Kometenmelodie 1 / 2 (Kraftwerk, 1974)

For sure, this is an electronic music track of prog interest. Not only its structure is complex and carefully articulated, but the two different parts form a 12 minute coherent suite reminiscent of a synphonic two-parts composition, not so far from many romantic opera preludes. This instrumental track is inspired by the comet Kohoutek, discovered in 1973 and rapidly becoming an event during 1974. In fact, a 1973 early demo-quality single of Kometenmelodie part 2 was actually titled Kohoutek-Kometenmelodie, while an edited version of Kometenmelodie part 2 was released as a single immediatly after the album release.

The cover of the early version of Kometenmelodie, released in 1973.

The first part of the song describes the long, dark, silent journey of the comet through the far and cold regions of the Solar System and the mood here is morn and arcane, on a very slow and almost lugubrious tempo. Then, part 2 introduces the brighter and spectacular passage near the Sunk, with a tempo acceleration and a melodic, pyrotechnical variation of the main theme. Prog or not, this is great.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Första vandringen (Bo Hansson, 1970)

Here's a short and beautiful instrumental track by the Swedish  multi-instrumentalist Bo Hansson, who unfortunately left us in 2010. The original album "Sagan om Ringen" was released in Sweden in 1970, while Charisma Records published it worldwide as "Lord of The Rings" in 1972. This is the intro of the album, one of the many ones dedicated to Tolkien's books, and I like it very much.
Bo Hansson and his beloved keyboards.
It's a fluid, almost liquid melody driven by keys and flowing on a slightly Oriental rhythmic background. A few notes giving a sweet but unusual feeling and perfecly describing the Middle Earth and the special mood we all experience when leaving for a long journey. The English title of this song is in fact "Leaving Shire" (but the actual meaning of "Första vandringen" is "The First Journey") and I find in it the distant lights of a new horizon at the end of the road.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

L'Isola di niente (Premiata Forneria Marconi, 1974)

This is one of the most intriguing tracks in the '70s Italian prog scene, and it's the title track of PFM's third Italian album. It also exists in English, titled "The Mountain" as the opening track of the album "The World Became The World", also released in 1974. As usual, I introduce here the original language version. The stunning choral intro is probably the most known feature of the song, even if I'm fond of its elecric guitar work, including the first sharp riffs that completely change the track mood after the above-mentioned arcane and classical choir.

An early PFM's line-up. Good music from good musicians...

The following vocal arrangements are beautiful too and so are the keyboard / guitar plots enriching the instrumental passages. That said, the main feature of this song, IMHO of course, is its magic and suspended atmosphere, something the Italian title suggests (L'Isola di niente means The Isle of Nothing) with not so hidden references to Neverland and to so many islands from our childhood's dreams.

Monday 7 October 2013

Gong (Cathedral, 1978)

First, a disambiguation note: this is a song from the "Stained Glass Stories" debut album by Cathedral, the US '70s prog band, not to be confused with the more recent UK band bearing the same name. "Gong" it's a instrumental synphonic rock jewel, IMHO. The rythm is enthralling, the plots are rich and intricate, the tempo changes are surprising and the band's performance is perfect. What else? I think this 7 minute track melts very well all the band's influences, from Genesis to Yes and from King Crimson to Gentle Giant, but the result isn't a simply derivative song: "Gong" has its own character.

Unfortunately, the band waited some 30 years to release
the follow up of "Stained Glass Stories".

Do you know why? Because you'll find no weak moments here: each passage is exacly where it had to be, each instruments comes in when it had to, each musical idea is developed to the very end and gives place to the next one without any useless pause. This song was a pleasant surprise to me when I first listened to it, I hope the same will happen to you.

Sunday 6 October 2013

21st Century Schizoid Man (King Crimson, 1969)

One of the most influential prog songs ever, no doubt. Even if I better like the pastoral side of the first KC album, I can't denie this is creative rock music at its height. The main riff is simply stunning and I consider it as the bridge joining the psychedelic and the synphonic banks of the late 60s rock 'n' roll. The chaotic appearance of the track fades away with a more careful listening and reveals a well structured architecture and an original melody.

"21st Century" was also released as a 7" single along with
"Epitaph", but only in 1976.

More than this, this song is a strong, raging attack against the alienating world of the modern era and especially against war, a theme you'll also find elsewhere in the album. Sure, the track isn't for the faint of heart, with its abrupt changes, distorted sounds and jazzy cameos... it's an adventurous song, full of musical details and each time one listens to this it's like listening to a new song. The magic of prog, I suppose.

Friday 4 October 2013

Sad Song (Red Sand, 2009)

Red Sand are a proud band, they really are. Their extra-melodic prog, something like Marillion meet Camel, will never rule the world charts and isn't exaclty what the music magazines acclaim. This "Empty Calendar", the opening track of the "Music for Sharks" album shows what Simon Caron & friends like and the music producers dislike. It's a well written and well performed neo-prog with a slow and majestic keyboard carpet on which the electric guitar draws its dreamy frames.

Music for Sharks is dedicated to the music industry "sharks".
They'll never release a Red Sand album... but they're wrong, IMHO.

The Floyd-esque intro introduces the listener to Caron's musical Neverland, made of sweet and sad stuff, and the guitar solos really make me feel like one of Peter Pan's Lost Boys. I also like this track because of its sincere lyrics about the band's notion of music: When I write a new song, Caron says, I don't think it's my best, but I know it's not my last one, I feel it reflects my loyalty. True, Red Sand are loyal, they give me what they promise, no more nor less than this. And I hope they'll always do so.

Thursday 3 October 2013

The Carpet Crawlers (Genesis, 1974)

Another great classic enters my humble collection. This is from "The Lamb Lies down on Broadway", the double LP released in 1974, the last Genesis' album with Peter Gabriel. I adopt here the title as stated on the album booklet and on the 7" single, but you'll find Carpet Crawlers in the back cover of "The Lamb" and The Carpet Crawl on "Seconds out" live album. Be as it may, it's a slow, intense song, with a sad and obscure atmosphere but also featuring one of the deepest Peter's vocal performances. His voice slowly rises the musical scale and grows up both in volume and feeling. The group provide a suspended atmosphere where Mike Rutherford's bass lines add an uneasy touch.

Released in April 1975, this was the last Gabriel's single with the band.

It's one of those tracks you listen to without noticing the time passing by and the first time I put this on my stereo I was sure it lasted some 3 minutes or so. I was really surprised when I read the actual duration of 5 minutes and more. I also like Phil Collins' vocals on the "Seconds out" live version, but I have mixed feelings about the 1999 single studio remake. I'll let you decide.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Overture (Sanhedrin, 2011)

I can hear you saying: "What? Another Overture?". True, the title isn't so original, nor the music maybe, but this guys from Israel have their own special touch. Basically, this is a classically set up track, not so far from the '70s synphonic masters, but with many stimulating nuances in it: there's a folk-rock taste (the flute work is very good), a fluid camel-esque guitar (Sanhedrin started as a Camel cover band), and a slight Middle East flavour coming in and out of focus during the song, a refreshing wave I like very much.

"Ouverture" is the opening track of "Ever After" album.

I also appreciate the loose interpretation of the traditional prog schemes, melting vintage and new sounds. Last but not least, this Overture's got a rich and finished architecture,  so that I can't but recommend this Barness brothers band's song to your kind attention.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Parsifal (Pooh, 1973)

This is a two part synphonic epic from the best known melodic rock Italian band, strongly influenced by progressive rock in their early years. The song features a heavy orchestral arrangement in the wake of many other '70s Italian productions. The first part is sung, it features lyrics about Perceval's myth and beautiful, delicate tunes.

Fit for the Dark Ages, they were...

This same theme is exploited during the second section, a fully instrumental one. Here you'll find the main feature of the song: the dialogue between the orcherstra and the outstanding Dodi Battaglia's electric guitar. It's a pure treat, combining the slow and bombastic strings with the very fast guitar performance, something like winds and lightnings put together. I really like this track, one of the most successful orchestra and group tracks in the '70s Italian scene.