Saturday 30 November 2013

Wisdom (Magellan, 2005)

The brothers Gardner (aka Magellan) are very popular among US 21st Century prog bands and they surely deserve it. Why didn't I choose one of their epic songs? Well, because I think this slow time and atmospheric "Wisdom", taken from the album "Symphony for A Misanthrope" magnifies some of the best features of the band. First of all, the tight and emotional voice of Trent Gardner, that's on top of things in such a rarefied track. It conveies the sense of isolation that's the album focus with a singular strength.

Poor Gardner brothers out in the rain.

Then, this song is also a fine example of the melodic skills of Magellan, a quality that's not so easy to find out there. Finally, the apparently plain keys and guitars plot is pure magic. Please note how the instruments come in and out the track, supporting the singer when it is necessary and leaving him almost alone in the intro and outro topic moments. Wow...

Thursday 28 November 2013

Chelsea Monday (Marillion, 1983)

I can't describe my inner reactions each time I hear the oppressive bass line introducing "Chelsea Monday". I see an urban grey sky, a concrete landscape and a million people searching for something new in their lives. Really, this is a highly emotional track and when Steve Rothery comes in with his electric guitar solo the foggy atmosphere leaves its place to a human pulsing, suffering heart. Fish's vocals tell about a young lady trying to be a star:

Catalogue princess, apprentice seductress
Hiding in her cellophane world in glitter town
Awaiting the prince in his white Capri.

Did those dreadful guys push the poor lady of the song into the river ?

But the story ends with a moving and hurting note:

Hello John, did you see The Standard about four hours ago?
Fished a young chick out of The Old Father
Blond hair, blue eyes.

And the song quietly fades away while the the Old Father Thames rolls on...

Wednesday 27 November 2013

The Return of The Sorcerer (Orne, 2011)

Orne are a prog side project of Finnish doom metal band Reverend Bizarre, including the three members of the "mother" group plus three other ones. It was difficult for me to choose a single track from their second album "The Tree of Life", as I think the whole CD is a pearl. Anyway, this "The Return of The Sorcerer" is a perfect example of Orne's dark, slow tempo, mysterious prog rock.

This album was a plasant surprise for many proglovers.

You'll find here a beautiful melody, a couple of vintage keyboards and a vagely acid guitar, but also a deep and strong lead voice singing esoteric lyrics the way some Early prog band used to do back in 1970. The final instrumental section of the track is a treat with its arcane atmosphere and the Floydian electric guitar playing on a thick keyboards background. Delicate and solid, melancholic and energetic, fairy and sensual, old and surprising, this is the kind of music I call prog.

Monday 25 November 2013

To Take Him Away (Sandrose, 1972)

Another excellent early prog band from France, another beautiful song for my collection. This is taken from the band's only album and it's a 7 minutes slow tempo, pastoral, symphonic track. During the first five minutes of "To Take Him Away" a sweet ballad stanzas alternate with some soft electric guitar solos, pleasantly varying the main theme. Rose Podwojny's voice is really good, warm and deep, with no useless ornaments, while Jean-Pierre Alarcen's melting guitar is simply perfect.

Sandrose were formed in 1971 and only released one album.

Henri Garella and his keyboards rule the two minutes finale. It's an instrumental coda based on an ethereal mellotron and full of misty, arcane notes. The rythm section provides the finishing touch, with a discreet but essential work. What else? If you don't know, please give it a try!

Sunday 24 November 2013

In The Eye (Ilúvatar, 1993)

This Baltimore based musicians only released three good albums from 1993 to 1999, but they're still on the road. Their neo-prog is certainly influenced by the '80s UK bands, but also features an original sound, as "In The Eye" proves very well. The three parts of this mini-epic highlight the excellent guitar work by Dennis Mullin, as you can see in the first and heavier part "Look Us in The Eye". 

"Ilúvatar" was the band's debut album.

Also his interplays with Jim Rezek's keyboards are stunning, like in the "Blind" part. Then, I like Glenn McLaughlin's vocals, especially in the last section, called "Through The Eye", where I also smell a pleasant scent of Kansas. Throughout the suite, the rythm section ensures a definite rock soul to the track, even if drums are sometimes too loud, but this is just a matter of taste. In conclusion, this is a very good example of '90s prog with an open heavy inclination, without sacrificing the right amount of feeling.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Roulette (Beardfish, 2007)

This long and diversified track comes from Beardfish' album "Sleeping in Traffic Part One" and it's the longest and most challenging one. Starting with a vintage wall of sound, it offers a big deal of styles and moods, building up a very original sound. These Swedish musicians love good melodies (and so do I) and love to arrange them in delicious plots and this song is a perfect specimen of their skills. It's a kaleidoscope of rythms and tunes, an inlay of tempos and moods, so that I can frankly state that this is one of the funniest and most intriguing songs
This was the third album by Beardfish.
I've ever listened to. Some of the vocal harmonies remind me of Gentle Giant, but in a easier way, and there's a strong reference to popular dance music too, something rather unusual in a prog rock track. A special mention goes to Rikard Sjöblom's keyboards, gathering a wide range of effects, such as a beautiful electric piano or a surprising accordion. Listening to songs like this one ensures that prog is not dead (nor dying).

Friday 22 November 2013

Verso la locanda (Quella Vecchia Locanda, 1972)

A very interesting track, this is. Taken from the Quella Vecchia Locanda's eponymous first album, it shows a brilliant acoustic opening plot, with flute, guitar and especially violin in the foreground. Then, a short electric riff introduces the only sung section, a nostalgy slow tempo one, followed by a jazzy improvisation featuring a very good piano and immediately leaving place to a typical prog-rock acceleration providing a strong conclusion to the song. 

The painter Giancarlo Impiglia created this
suggestive artwork for "Quella Vecchia locanda".

Even if this "Verso la locanda" ("Towards the Inn", in English) is to be appreciated together with the whole concept album, I still like it as a stand alone, because it features all the main ingredients of the succulent dish we call "Italian prog": poetry, good melodies, moody plots, sharp changes and pleasant acoustic passages. In short, this could be suggested as a crash-test for the genre beginners. And I bet they'll ask for more.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

And You And I (Yes, 1972)

How could I forget this song? It's a 10 minutes song divided in four parts, each one bearing its own title and introducing a new theme, so that we can consider it as a short suite. Its acoustic intro show the listener inside a musical Wonderland made of sounds and colours, with the ineffable guide of Jon Anderson's voice, singing like an angel three different tunes until Rick Wakeman comes in and opens the sky. It's like diving in liquid music and the adventure goes on with Jon Anderson doubling the keys and closing the first section.

The single version of "And You And I" only features the second
section of the song, titled "Eclipse". Another US single version
included instead the whole song split in two parts.

Then, Steve Howe's guitar restarts the song and we're one more time in a ballad mood, rapidly evolving in more complicated forms, thanks to the rythm section and some more keyboard effects. So a choral theme rises up and the last word is for Jon Anderson. It's always surprising to me how this song can be both simple and intricated, a kind of balance and freshness Yes won't often achieve.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Lenny (Kyrie Eleison, 1976)

This Austrian band was so strongly influenced by "Nursery Cryme" and Genesis that their music is usually considered as a derivative and unnecessary one. Now, let's see this topic the other way round. What about their songs if we consider them adopting a merely musical point of view? Take this "Lenny", for example, the closing track of their "Fountain Beyond The Sunrise" album. It's a highly dynamic track, with many interesting changes, very good keyboard plots and, two or three catchy and wide themes and, last but not least, a solid and pleasant architecture.

Also the artwork reminds me something...

This 16 minute track isn't a suite, but one rich and well organized symphonic rock song, a well balanced epic featuring a clever succession of vocal and instrumental passages. Then, yes, there's much Genesis stuff in it and we could also argue that some synth effects aren't so good and the recording quality is poor, even in the remastered CD edition. Having said that, I still like the track and it gives me the kind of joy my ears are always searching for in the progressive world.

Monday 18 November 2013

Song of The Marching Children (Earth And Fire, 1971)

This 18 minutes suite from the Dutch band "Earth And Fire" definitely shows how much prog rock was already a popular genre throughout Europe in very early '70s. And this band was both popular and refined, just like the song I'm introducing here, which is the title track of the second album of Earth And Fire. It's a fine example of mellotron-driven symphonic rock, full of changes and surprising solutions. This epic is divided in seven parts, each one with its distinctive style, still well harmonized and blended. The mood is atmospheric and gentle, but the tempo rises up now and then and the rythm section makes the Whole lot rather diversified, sometimes extravagant, never boring.

I better like the music than the artwork of this album...

Some passages are Worth a special mention, like the pastoral mellotron on "Childhood" section, the acoustic guitar introducing the "Purification" part and the final measured drums on the closing section titled "The March". Anyway, the whole suite is enjoyable, somewhat arcane and unpredictable. A jewel from the early Golden era of prog. Should I add IMHO?

Sunday 17 November 2013

La Danse de la perte (Galaad, 1996)

This Swiss band’s album “Vae Victis” features several excellent tracks. “La Danse de la perte” (meaning “Loss Dance”) presents many interesting aspects. The first one is its unusual architecture: a suite of about 12 minutes divided in two very different parts: part 1, titled “Maybe We Are Brothers”, is sung (mostly in French) and even if this song is dedicated to a dead friend and not to a lover, these beautiful lyrics remind me an Aube, a medieval poetry in which the lovers complain the approach of dawn (Aube, in French) bringing their parting with it. Part 2, “Wasicun”, is an instrumental fast tempo progression, based on keyboards and with some very good guitars too. A moving storm, I daresay.

The band's line-up in 1996, as shown in "Vae Victis" booklet.

The second interesting point is, of course, the music. It’s absolutely original, showing how prog rock can’t be enclosed in a strictly regulated genre, with a harsh and gloomy ballad, some evocative instrumental interludes and the stunning finale I tried to describe above. A last mention goes to Pierre-Yves Theurillat’s vocals, mighty and hoarse, but also sensitive, a rock voice fond of melody.

Friday 15 November 2013

Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd, 1975)

This is the quintessential rock (or prog rock) ballad in my very humble opinion. Cleverly arranged, it keeps an apparent simplicity on which David Gilmour's tight voice sings those beautiful lyrics about Syd Barrett, the ex member of the band to whom most of the "Wish You Were Here" album is dedicated. This song is so well known that I can skip all punctual descriptions, but I want to point out some of its features I especially like.

The band during the "Wish You Were Here" studio sessions.

The intro is one of them. The tuning radio including a glimpse of Tchaykovsky's fourth Symphony and introducing a station performing GIlmour's twelve-string guitar intro is stunning. And when the guitarist overdubs the radio intro with an acoustic guitar, the effect is not only pleasant, but also moving. The melody itself is wide, enjoyable but never too catchy, so that you can't help but sing along. Gilmour's solos and the suggestive lyrics complete the picture of this real masterpiece I can't listen to without a shiver down my spine.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Im Netz (Novalis, 1979)

I'm fond of Novalis' romantic vein, and also of their wide range musical inspiration. This 8 minutes song - mostly instrumental - is part of a concept album titled "Flossenengel" ("The Swimming Angel"), dealing with whales and sea life presevation. "In Netz" is a slow tempo, atmospheric song, strongly influenced by Pink Floyd and still very original.
Novalis line-up in 1979.
This is, IMHO, the closer musical depiction of sea one could imagine. Fluid, shifting, but also calm and majestic, this song rolls by like an ocean of sound, with its Gilmour-like guitars and its suspended and dreaming keyboards. The short sung section is a very German one, with a measured and almost martial melody, sung with a slow-motion effect. I really like to listen to this song with eyes closed and open mind.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

The Big Money (Rush, 1985)

Can a song be both typically '80s and undoubtedly prog? Many tried, Rush succeded with "The Big Money", the opening track and first single of their album "Power Windows", released in 1985. The arena rock style electric guitars, the pulsing bass and some synth effects are certainly the sons of their decade, but the creative drumming work, the intricate guitar / keys interplays, the bass line (with a taste of Yes) and the solos are the proggest thing you could imagine.

"The Big Money" single was released in october 1985.

The song plot is cleverly set up, with a strong guitar-driven intro, a tough vocal theme and the beautiful instrumental section, including some delicious tempo changes. The finale resumes the main vocal tune and treats the listener with some extra riffs. A well balanced piece of work in an album including many cold-hearted tracks, an enjoyable song, but not at all a plain melodic rock piece. Something to warm up a progger's dull day.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Something Very Strange (Spock's Beard, 2013)

I usually don't add a song released in the current year to this collection, but with this "Something Very Strange" I can't wait longer. After so many line-up changes, I didn't expect too much from the new Spock Beard's album, called "Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep", but I was wrong. I found in it at least two great songs and this is one of them.

A great cover artwork by Thomas Ewerhard!

I like this track, a mid-length one, because of its unusual fusion of traditional and intricate prog rock and a catchy main theme, maybe more inspired to the '60s than to the '70s. This theme returns with pleasant variations then and now, providing airy breaks in the tight frame of the song, including Ryo Okumoto's key progressions and a beautiful guitar solo by Alan Morse. A tough, compact, nonetheless fresh and surprising song I highly recommend.

Sunday 10 November 2013

Falling (Paatos, 2006)

This Swedish prog (or post-prog, as some say now) band was born as an offspring of Landberk and rapidly became a successful act. This song, taken from the album "Silence of Another Kind", is a good example of their production: gloomy, slow tempo, atmospheric and featuring Petronella Nettelmalm's hypnotic, melancholic vocals.

Paatos protecting themselves from the Swedish winter.

Her whispering voice flows on the freezing keyboards and some beautiful acoustic guitar chords. The melody is well written and charming, perfectly fitting with the mellotron sond. Despite the northern crepuscular mood, this song is deep and moving like a children's fairy tale. I highly recommend it to all the sweetest prog lovers out there.

Saturday 9 November 2013

A Salty Dog (Procol Harum, 1969)

A plain song, yes, but what a song! This Procol Harum's third album title track has always been special to me, a real musical treat for my ears. All is perfect: the sea effects, the pop arrangements, the classic taste, the tragic lyrics about a sinking ship. And the vocals, of course, tight and wide as only the sea can be.

The "A Salty Dog" album also features this famous cover.

The magic of adventure fills the song, while the seamen dream a harbour and the captain cries. Here the band didn't try to remake their first and greatest hit, they found another effective way to communicate emotions and images. Last but not least, the melody of the song  is very, very good and well developed. The suspended verse and the airy, mighty chorus shape a catchy crescendo in both musical and emotional fields. Well, maybe they're not fields. They're seas.

Friday 8 November 2013

Numbers (The Flower Kings, 2012)

This long suite opens "Banks of Eden", The Flower Kings' eleventh album, and it's a really good example of synphonic rock, with energetic guitar riffs, impervious keyboard progressions and airy, melodic sung themes. The sound is full and it features many changes of tempo, with the first 10 minutes equally divided between perfecty entwined electric walls of sound and choir and acoustic, intimate ballads. Then, I also appreciate the atmospheric section between minute 10 and 12, another good specimen of the spectacular, arcane but also ironic style of the band.

Silas Toball's wonderful cover art for "Banks of Eden".

This section is immediately followed by one of the best guitar solos in recent Roine Stolt's production. And when you think surprises are over, here you are sort a black music part, softly sung on a bass and hammond background. What else? A splendid keys / guitar duel (starting around minute 18) and a guitar-driven section in a crescendo of drums and choral arrangements. The finale begins with a taste of late '70s funky, then we're back in a melodic electric guitar solo. I don't always like The Flower Kings' epics, but this one is stunning and unpredictable, in a word: progressive.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Titanic Calls Carpathia (The Tangent, 2011)

A very unusual and beautiful epic from The Tangent, the band including Parallel or 90 Degrees and Flower Kings members. It's a 16 minutes and 6 parts suite featuring experimental sections and also more traditional ones, coming from COMM, the group's sixth album. After many line-up changes, The Tangent still counts on Andy Tillson's keyboards and mind.

COMM is about communications in the modern era.

As the lyrics offer a short history of electromagnetic communications focusing on some famous cases (The Titanic shipwreck is one of them), the atmosphere changes from section to section: vintage sounds, especially committed to the winds, electronic effects, jazz-rock, ambient, heavy guitars and sweeter keys. These changes are unpredictable, the track sounds very original and all the musicians, as usual, play very well. But there's something more: emotions... and this isn't usual in such a tecnically gifted band, after all.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Schoolyard Fantasy (Flamborough Head, 1998)

The opening track of this Dutch band's debut album is surprisingly good. Sure, they're strongly influenced by Marillion & Friends, and you'll breathe a Floydian smell roaming around (and in the lyrics...), but there's a brand melodic vein and a firm touch when it comes to put the different sections of this rather long track in the right order. So, the slow tempo and atmospheric background is delightful and never too sweetish, while the more lively sections feature good guitar work by André Cents.

A rather sad artwork by Theo Spaay. But I like it.

Keyboards are everywhere, as you can imagine, but Edio Spanninga's style is gentle and discreet and he knows how to switch from synths to piano and back again. I also like Siebe Rein Schaafs' tight and airy vocals, adding a further personal mood to the song. If you're searching for some good neo progressive rock, you'll find it here.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

The Cinema Show / Aisle of Plenty (Genesis, 1973)

One of the most known and influential Genesis' tracks, "The Cinema Show" (and its virtual outro "Aisle of Plenty") is a stunning piece of work. The first slow tempo section is an atmospheric ballad based on the 12-string guitar, including two rarefied istrumental interludes and featuring lyrics about masculine and feminine points of view on both life and love. This theme is illustrated with the Greek myth of Tiresias, the blind prophet Zeus changed in a woman for seven years and also with a reference to Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet characters. 

Betty Swanwick's painting "The Dream" on "Selling England" cover.

The second and longer section is an instrumental crescendo with a slight jazz-rock taste and a long, celebrated solo by Tony Banks, including one of the first appearances of synths in the goup's sound. Despite this famous solo, this section allows all the band's members to create an overall exhibition, a stunning example of musical machinery. The last section, "Aisle of Plenty", closes the track and the album coming back to the LP concept of English culture commodification. But all the above is nothing to me compared to the waves of emotion this track inspires me. I really can't describe my pleasure in listening to this, but I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Monday 4 November 2013

Sur la trace des fées (Ange, 1975)

This Ange's song is a very sweet and apparently plain one, but also one of my favourites ever. It was nspired by popular legends about fairies, as narrated by Émile Jacotey, the old peasant providing the concept for the fourth album of the band. He tells the wanderings in the Woods he and his childhood friends used to organize in order to see the fairies and in fact the song title means "In the wake of the fairies".

Ange's line-up in 1977.

So, the strong folk taste of the music and the childhood's nostalgic mood give to this track a special, magic atmosphere, a softness of its own I like very much. That's not all: the fusion of rock and acoustic instruments is also a winning point, just take the delicate and neat rythm section's work. Last but not least, the melody itself is excellent and Christian Décamps sings it with his usual passion, especially the chorus, one of his emotional peaks. IMHO.

Sunday 3 November 2013

King-Bird (Trace, 1975)

A 22 minutes suite I really like, "King-Bird" is from Trace's second album, titled "Birds" and completely dedicated to our winged friends. This Dutch trio, leaded by keyboardist Rick Van Der Linden, gave a very good proof of their skills in this epic, featuring a great deal of keyboards, with a strong presence of harpsichord and piano. But I also like Jaap Van Eik's calm and sweet vocals and - what a topping for this cake! - in this track (and album) Ian Mosley is the drummer, yes, the Marillion guy.

That's "Birds" cover art...

...and the band: do you recognise Ian Mosley?

Vocal and instrumental themes are so good, sweet and airy, and all the arrangements are smart and original, so that the English prog influence is never too strong and Trace's music is no way a derivative one. They mix ELP's exuberance and Italian prog poetry, classicism and oddity. The final effect is a colourful kaleidoscope of sounds and ideas, a fairy tale full of joy and gentleness. Never too sweet, never too tricky, this suite is a hidden Wonderland I like to explore now and then. Well, now I told you, it's no more hidden, I'm afraid.

Saturday 2 November 2013

Dark Ages (Jethro Tull, 1979)

A dramatic track, "Dark Ages" is, with its freezing intro and its pessimistic lyrics about the future of  both Earth and humanity. A 9 minute epic about the deadly struggle between human greed and Nature, featuring in all "Stormwatch" album songs. But if many prefer the shorter ballads from this album, I better like this track. Maybe because the song is definitely prog, stretched and rather elaborated, with all instruments engaged in the musical description of human senselessness.

Ian Anderson watching the storm approaching...
...such a good cover painting by David Jackson!

The instrumental interplays involving keyboards and guitars are impressive and Ian's vocal performance is strong and rugged. A tough and never boring track, including softer and arcane interludes and sudden tempo changes. The gloomy mood of "Dark Ages" isn't the one you'd expect in a moonless night... it's more like the sharp darkening preceding a storm. A good, deeply emotional song, IMHO.

Friday 1 November 2013

Ur Vilande (Änglagård, 2012)

The long awaited third Änglagård's album, "Viljans Öga", wasn't a disappointment, being as intriguing and deliciously intricated as the previous ones. This opening track, "Ur Vilande", is my favourite one from this CD featuring four long epics. I like it because of its fairy taste, its acoustic and vintage instruments, its beautiful and ethereal themes, but also because of its changes.

We had to wait nearly 20 years to hear some new music from them.
Yes, it was worth waiting.
There are some lunar and delicate sections in this track (especially in the first and last parts), but you'll also find intricate and full-bodied passages and even a psychedelic bridge. The sound, the volume, the tempo and the mood range between the calm and the tempest, the crescendo and the calando, but the whole track is full of the natural, pastoral taste I like so much in Änglagård's music. The suite is instrumental, but we don't need the words to see the magic in it.