Tuesday 31 December 2013

Take A Look (Twelfth Night, 1986)

Once upon a time there were some bands like this one making hybrid music that sounded like IQ meets Duran Duran. I discovered Twelfth Night many years ago and I started listening to their "Twelfth Night" album with mixed feelings. Most of the tracks sounded precisely like new wave stuff and I was ready to store the CD in my pop shelf when the closing song began and I changed my mind. "Take A Look" is a more than 11 minutes epic track, full of changes and pleasant surprises. Fortunately my blog is dedicated to songs, not to albums...

The flushing "Twelfth Night"cover. I like it.

The keyboard effects are a bit dated and the melodies are simple and catchy, but I like the way Andy Sears sings them and I adore the instrumental sections, rather long and complex. Keys and guitars interplay very well and the rythm section supports them brilliantly. This is prog, my friends, arranged in an Eighties fashioned way, maybe, but definitely good prog. I can't help but wondering why they didn't put in the CD one o two more tracks like this one, but this is nonsense... I'll keep on listening to it and leaving all the rest where it is.

Saturday 28 December 2013

Boarding Pass (Edhels, 1988)

I think this is the only prog band born in the Principality of Monaco... but maybe I simply ignore the Monégasque prog scene. For sure, Edhels are an interesting band, something totally different from the main French models, such as Ange, Atoll or Mona Lisa. Edhels' prog is an instrumental one, with strong new-age tentations and a spacey keyboards background. This "Boarding Pass" comes from "Still Dream" and dreamy it is, but if the rest of the album is rather cold and affected, this track has its own soul, mostly provided by Jean-Louis Suzzoni's Latimer-esque electric guitar.

"Still Dream" is the band's third album.
This is languidly spread over Marc Ceccotti's keys and Noël Damon's piano, while Jacky Rosati drums on slowly and effectively. Well, don't take my word for the musican's role here: those are multi-instrumentalists playing practically everything, so I'm just guessing or so. Anyway, this is a good, relaxing track with a feeling. Definitely, a "boarding pass" to an open blue sky.

Friday 27 December 2013

Two Demons (Little Tragedies, 2006)

My... this is a dramatic, flushing, highly dynamic symphonic rock suite! Some 28 minutes of crazy keyboards, bombastic guitars, fiery drums... those Russian musicians (once called "Paradox") don't miss a thing! Taken from their "New Faust" 2-CD opus, "Two Demons" is as devilish as its title suggests, a chain of scales and progressions to leave breathless the more resistant of prog fans. Most of the track is instrumental, but some Russian lyrics enrich the song's sturdy texture now and then.

I can't help but recommend these guys... a force of Nature!

Sure, Gennady Ilyin's keyboards rule, and after all our friend is the band's founder, leader and composer, if you see what I mean. Of course, the rest of rhe crew also works very hard (and very well), they never take a rest for some 15 minutes, I mean it. So, when the beautiful, down-tempo section comes in, the poor listener really needs it. And here he'll fully appeciate Alexander Malakhovsky's dreaming guitar. In short, if your're looking for some quiet, pastoral prog, please, look elsewhere, but if you do like burning lava, fast fingers and strong emotions, with a final touch of melody, well, this is definitely for you.

Thursday 26 December 2013

La terra dell'acqua (Premiata Forneria Marconi, 2006)

"Stati di immaginazione" ("Imagining States" in English) is my favourite PFM's album after their reunion in the late '90s. This "La terra dell'acqua" ("Water's Ground") is the opening track, an istrumental trip of more than 8 minutes intended to comment the images coming from an Italian TV program and concerning Venice and its destiny. Of course, this music can't be limited to a descriptive use and this track is a real prog masterpiece, starting with dreming keyboards and evolving into a polirhytmic and flushing composition with so many different moods and tempos.

"Stati di immaginazione" was PFM's 16th studio album.

I recommend the violin solo by guest Lucio Fabbri and the stunning Franz Di Cioccio's drumming, creative and unpredictable. Sure, I can't forget the electric guitar solo Franco Mussida mounts in the finale like a shining gem in a precious crown. Precious, yes, this is the word for such a beautiful, both romantic and aggressive track, showing once again how great PFM are.

Wednesday 25 December 2013

Birthday Card at Christmas (Jethro Tull, 2003)

Well, today is Christmas, after all. And this is a great song, IMHO. It's the opening one of "The Jethro Tull Christmas Album", a band's hardly predictable hit released in 2003. Ian Anderson explained this song title: his daughter was born on Christmas day and her birthday was always on a minor key, as the big event somehow diminished it. So, this is kind of a repayment for her and all the others born that same day.

...And what a beautiful, seasonal cover art!

It's a short and folkish track with a very strong and beautiful flute intro leading to a classical Jethro Tull's ballad. Another splendid flute solo graces the middle section of the song and a third one, tight and windy, closes it. Really, listening to this track is a very good way to wake up at Christmas and it's exactly what I did today... but I'm sure I'll listen again to this long before next december!

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Le Cimetière des Arlequins (Ange, 1973)

Taken from Ange's second album "Le Cimetière des Arlequins", this rather long title track features almost 9 minutes of excellent music and biting lyrics. The first sung theme is something like a puppet's music and perfectly represents the topic of the track: the anonymous wheel game of human lives transposed in a world of marionettes. Full of surprises, this song is.

The russian but german-born painter Jacques Wyrs illustrated this cover.

After the puppet's verse, we cross a dramatic chorus, then the first theme comes back and there's the dense, arcane, mostly instrumental second section, featuring a yelled version of the chorus, where Christian Décamps invites the "harlequins" to take their place in the graveyard. A harder riff, also quoting Wagner's Ride of The Valkyries and leading to the final clockwork bruitage shows the miserable crowd's parade towards the final resting place. Strong, that's the word for it.

Sunday 22 December 2013

Fountains (Starcastle, 1977)

An old, challenging question: is derivative music always so bad? Listening to Starcastle's "Fountains", the opening track of their "Fountains of Light" album, I'd say no, not necessarily at least. These American boys were faithful fans of Yes and they did all they could in their career to reproduce their idols' sound. And they did it well, sometimes very well, like in this 10 minutes and more epic. The melodies are catchy, the tempo always changing, all is well set up, from the keyboard and guitar solos to the choirs, let alone Terry Luttrell's voice, so similar to Jon Anderson's.

Starcastle released 4 studio albums in the '70s and another one in 2007.

Sure, the rythm section, although very good indeed, maybe isn't as good as their model's, but I don't think Chris Squire and Bill Bruford had twin brothers, after all. Nonetheless, the song is fully enjoyable, well balanced, never boring, brilliant in spite of a barely acceptable sound quality. Some passages are really worth a second listening (and a third, why not?) and they give me the kind of joy I'm serching for when putting a prog CD in my player. A yes clone? Who cares...

Friday 20 December 2013

In Taberna (Wobbler, 2009)

Wobbler are a brilliant specimen of the so-called vintage prog bands, producing songs in the style of the '70s symphonic bands and often using their models' same instruments. This is exactly the case of this highly dynamic song, coming from Wobbler's second album "Afterglow". It's a majestic, mostly up-tempo instrumental track, driven by keyboards and especially Mellotron. All the main features of classic prog are here: the epic wall of sound, some slightly jazzy sections, a few romantic and foggy moments, flute, violin, jeegs, folk roots and even a glimpse of Dark Ages.

A very good cover art, by Trine, Kim Design Studio and Wobbler.

These Norwegian guys are really clever and they know how to change the tempo, the instruments, the mood, even the models of their flushing music. I especially like the way they link so many different riffs in a sort of modern rhapsody. Maybe they lack somehow in coherence and melodies, but they excel when it comes to real progressive fun!

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Ashes Are Burning (Renaissance, 1973)

One of the most known and appreciated tracks of Renaissance, this is the title track of Renaissance's fourth album and one of the best vocal performances of Annie Haslam. This is not all, of course: in its 11 minutes of sparkling music, you'll find John Tout's  brilliant piano and keyboard solos, with a heartbreaking Hammond I adore and an impressive series of creative bass lines. And then... there's the rightly famous solo guitar by guest musician Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash (well, of course... Ashes are important here!).

"Ashes Are Burning" is definitely one of my favourites.
Andy's bluesy performance shines upon the keyboards and the rising drums, an excellent finale for such a good track, whose dynamic changes will always amaze me. I must spend another word about Annie's voice to finish my post: she reaches the highest notes without any volume decrease or tone impurity... a real wonder I appreciate more and more as I grow old.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Zeit (Tangerine Dream, 1972)

This long track - some 18 minutes - is one of the most arcane and fascinating ones in Tangerine Dream's discography. It's the last of the four movements forming the double album "Zeit", maybe the most intriguing one. Its spacey atmosphere, based on innovative keyboards, electronics and a slow, rarefied avant la lettre ambient music is both dreaming and scary, cold and moving. We're dragged in a dark, interstellar place, hold up by a cosmic wind and lured by a mysterious, alien energy, just to find that the outer space looks like our inner ego.
The alarming black sun of "Zeit".
Sure, "Zeit" belongs more likely to electronic experimental music or to the so called "kosmische musik",  than to progressive rock as we usually imagine it, but the high rate of creativity and the surprising landscapes in this track exceed all boudaries and perfectly incarnate the spirit of an era. Who could deny that the sense of wonder and the desire for unexplored soundscapes this song inspires is the same we find in all the biggest achievements of prog rock? That's why I add this track here, that's why I still listen to it today.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Another Day (Dream Theater, 1992)

One of the most famous Dream Theater's songs, taken from their "Images And Words" album. It's a plain song, with a rather traditional structure, but including two wonderful solos (electric guitar and soprano sax, just for the record). I like the melody very much and James LaBrie's vocal performance, strong and neat. The presence of so many acoustic instruments is another winning point of the song: the opening piano, guest Jay Beckenstein's sax, the acoustic guitar. And when the rock instruments come in, they create an emotional peak, leaving the sweet outro to Beckenstein of Spyro Gyra fame.

This song was also released as a single in 1993.

All is fit and carefully set in... a perfect song, if ever there was one, with some proggy features and moving lyrics about life and death. Some say John Petrucci wrote them for his father, then struggling against cancer. I don't know that, but the words are really good and the official video gently suggest a family meaning behind those beautiful lines:

If you're searching for a silent sky
You won't find it here
Look another way
You won't find it here
So die another day.

Saturday 14 December 2013

1984 Overture (Rick Wakeman, 1981)

I still remember people laughing at me when I bought Wakeman's "1984" album and declared I loved it. Well, I still think so and the "Overture" track is one of my favourite tracks in it. It is pure fun, full of keyboard progressions and scales, enthralling jeegs, tempo changes and colourful chords. As usual, Rick overstates and he perfectly knows he's doing that. I can't help imagining him grinning and laughing while his fingers run over dozens of keys and switches.Laughing, yes, while the rest of the planet was listening to punk rock, new wave and dance music, he was keeping on his way and having the time of his life.
"1984" was originally released on Charisma label.
Well, this record has many more admirers today than in 1981 and its forthcoming remestered edition (I think it's the third one) will take on the shelves the places once filled with punk and new wave records. Congratulations, Rick.

Friday 13 December 2013

Secret Gardener (Leap Day, 2008)

These Dutch guys are good composers and performers, IMHO. "Secret Gardener" comes from their "Awaking The Muse" CD of 2009, but a demo version of this track was released in a 2008 EP. It's a mid-tempo song featuring an interesting mix of catchy melodies, dreaming guitars, up to date keys and passionate vocals. Neo-prog, yes, but made and wrapped up with care and good taste. Leap Day succeed in varying the menu, but the song never grows stout and it remains a pleasant, fresh, enjoyable one.

Leap Day have released three CDs to date.
"Awaking The Muse" was their first album.

I saw too many proggers spoiling good songs trying to be smart. Fortunately, this is not the case. After all, we all need some good tunes, from time to time, something we can immediately catch and enjoy, something warm and comforting like a cup of good tea (or coffee, if you better like it). Such a musical product isn't easy to set up, believe me, and Leap Day know how to provide it. Perhaps, this is their gardener's secret, who knows? Anyway, thank you for the music, guys.

Thursday 12 December 2013

Hoppípolla (Sigur Rós, 2005)

Call it post-rock, post-prog, new ambient, art-rock or whatever you like, this song (and many other ones from this Icelandic band) isn't so far from our old dear prog. Hoppípolla (something like "Hopping into Puddles"), in particular, has a strong symphonic accent, with its dramatic crescendos and the perfect fusion of all instruments in a fluctuating, visionary wall of sound.

The album "Takk..." has a wonderful cover... hasn't it ?

I like the childish mood of the track, its Nordic, nostalgic taste, the smart passages from the loudest to the quietest moments. Most of all, I like the band's maniacal attention to details: volume, vocal effects, instruments choice... all sounds perfect, even the funny, original video with the old people acting like children. So, call this music as you like, I add it to my prog collection anyhow.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Embryo (Millenium, 2008)

The Polish band Millenium knows how to mix Floydian athmospheres with a modern electronic approach and this song, the opening of their album "Exist", is a very good specimen of their skills. Sweet and spacey, the keyboards open the road to Piotr Plonka's electric guitar, mid way between Gilmour and Hackett, then a beautiful bass / keys interplay introduces Lukasz Gall's neat and warm vocals, singing a ballad-like theme. A pleasant guitar interlude is followed by an arcane synth and the second stanza comes in.
Millenium are a very prolific band:
9 studio albums between 1998 and 2013!
The following long instrumental interlude is based on keys and a creative rythm section. It's like opening wide windows and doors and letting the light come into the room, a beautiful moment, IMHO. The faster and catchier final section isn't the best of things, maybe, but it gives to Plonka the time to show how much he likes R'n'B and acts like a bridge leading to the next track. All in all, a very good song, a fascinating musical landscape.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Inside And Out (Genesis, 1977)

I've always been fond of this track, recorded during the "Wind & Wuthering" sessions and released some months later in the "Spot The Pigeon" EP. The song is definitely divided into 2 parts.  The first one is a sweet ballad, based on the story of a man wrongly accused of  rape, convict for 20 years, finally declared innocent and released from prison. Some like these lyrics, some dislike them... I have mixed feelings, as I think the idea's good, but the actual words aren't always convincing. For sure, I like the melody and the 12 string guitars, two winning points, IMHO.

Genesis light show during their 1977 tour.
They also performed "Inside And Out" in a few dates.

The second part is even better, being an instrumental crescendo, based on a 12 strings rhythm guitar and featuring a very good Hackett's electric lead guitar and a rightly famous solo by Tony Banks on syths, well supported by drums and bass. I like the dynamic, enthralling, fully prog architecture of this section. There are some other reasons why Genesis fans often talk over this song: many of them complain its exclusion from "Wind & Wuthering", all of them consider it as Steve Hackett's swan song in Genesis history. What really matters to me is the beauty of this track, one of last true progressive ones from the band. Flowing water and bursting fire,  that's the essence of Genesis sound.

Monday 9 December 2013

Art Gallery (Galleon, 1998)

I read somewhere that Sweden has some 7 millions inhabitants and I'm convinced that half this number must be involved somehow in prog rock music, if only I consider how many bands and musicians I know (and appreciate) from this country. Galleon is an important part of this movement and the 14 minutes opening epic of their album "Mind over Matter" is a good example of their kind of prog, even if they changed somewhat during the years.

One ofthe best cover arts in Galleon's discography, IMHO.

I really like this song apart, maybe for the strange electronic intro: it's a dynamic, variated and classic prog song, not so original, that's true, but so fresh and pleasant that it seldom finds its way to my CD reader. The changing tempo and the instrumental sections (especially the melodic keyboards solo around minute 10) are excellent, but I also recommend the sung main theme, let alone the performing skills of the band. The lyrics are intriguing, exploring the esoteric side of art. What else? Well, try it!

Sunday 8 December 2013

Desert Flight (Gazpacho, 2009)

Gazpacho are a very eclectic band, whose solutions mid way between pop and prog are usually pleasant and in a rapid evolution during their career. This is the opening track of their “Tick Tock” album and I like the way they put together two very different ideas. The first one is a fast tempo, bombastic song, strongly influenced by Muse and the so called operatic rock, featuring a very good melody and an impressive wall of sound.

"Tick Tock" was the fifth Gazpacho's album.

Then, the mood changes and you’re in a gloomy, dramatic, almost instrumental music with a scent of Asian ethnic sound, slowly growing up both in tempo and volume, but with a moving acoustic finale. So, even if they quote some contemporary models, Gazpacho build up a very original piece of music, unpredictable and striking, something you can easily call prog rock. And, what’s more, something emotional.

Friday 6 December 2013

Musiken Är Ljuset (Kaipa, 1975)

Probably one of the best Swedish prog tracks ever and certainly one of the best Kaipa's compositions, this "Musiken Är Ljuset" ("The Music is Light", in English) really brings a new kind of light on our favourite musical genre. Full of different atmospheres, this 7 minutes opening track of the band's debut album is a clever mix of the main prog trends of the golden era. You'll enjoy in it vocal harminies, creative keyboards, unpredictable bass lines, a spiritual background and, of course, the inevitable tempo changes.

Kaipa: The Way We Were...

All is there and with a massive dose of good taste, something you won't find everywhere. What's more, there is plenty of good melodies and catchy riffs in this song, cleverly combined in a solid and coherent plot, where also a very young Roine Stolt finds his way to show his guitar skills next to predominant Hans Lundin's keyboards. The lyrics are in Swedish and I really like this: they add some slightly exotic sonorities to the lot and enhance the Nordic magic and legendary aura of the track.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Hope for The Life (Kayak, 1973)

Back to Kayak, here's a song from their debut album "See See The Sun", a stunning track featuring vocal harmonies and basically bass-driven. Yes, Cees van Leeuwen's work is excellent and his interplays with Ton Scherpenzeel's piano and keys are one of the strongest points here. The rythm is really enthralling, but some melodic interludes enrich the texture of a song whose beauty grows up each time you listen to it.

"See See The Sun" still is a seminal album in Eauropean prog.

Also the guitar riff in the second half of the song is pleasant and adds one more melody to this flushing collection of tunes."Hope for The Life" proves how vast were the band's inspirations, able to mix Gentle Giant, Genesis, Yes and some Canterbury style for a good measure. The final result is an original style, rich in flavours but well balanced in its architecture. A stimulating listening, that's for sure.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Heart Attack (Pallas, 1984)

"The Sentinel" was a seminal album in the '80s resurgence of prog rock and this song represents very well the martial, dramatic sound of the band, especially in this sci-fi concept album, their first and most loved one. It is important to say that this song was only released in the 1992 CD version of "The Sentinel", where the band also changed the running order of the tracks, in order to restore the original concept, including the music that didn't find its place in the LP. So, this song isn't a filler, not at all, and that's why I add it here to my collection.

Could a cover art be more progressive than this one?

The massive presence of old and new keyboards provided by Ronnie Brown, a very good Niall Mathewson's guitar solo, Euan Lowson's almost desperate and always theatrical vocals are some of the features of this 8 minutes epic and mostly slow tempo song. The mood changes are stunning, leading away the listener through war and peace, silence and noise, pleasure and pain. The melodies are well written and the rythm section supports each turn providing creative and intricate rythms, while the keys hold up the vocals properly stressing their emotional peaks. That's exactly what I like in a progressive rock song.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Don Giovanni (Versailles, 1992)

This '90s French band were able to release four studio albums and this epic is the title track of their second work. In the wake of '70s groups like Ange and especially Mona Lisa ( a bandin whose reformation they were involved in the year 2000), Versailles produced a highly dynamic and dramatic prog rock, influenced by neo-prog bands, but also featuring strong roots in the symphonic rock era. "Don Giovanni" is one of their best achievements, with its unpredictable tempo changes, its rich range of sounds and effects and its classic reference.

Varsailles released 4 albums between 1991 and 1998.
During more than 15 minutes, you'll appreciate the strong, emphatic and also sensitive Guillaume de la Pilière's vocals, the clever mix of his vintage and updated keys and - last but not least - his splendid piano work. The rythm section is also very good here, following the leader's incessant tempo and mood changes, a real tour-de-force putting more flesh and soul in this track. In short, a lively and colourful song, a blooming bouquet of musical flowers.

Sunday 1 December 2013

L'étoile (Pollen, 1976)

Pollen were a Canadian band from the '70s flushing Québec prog scene. Their only self titled album features a very good symphonic rock and this song ("L'étoile", meaning "The Star"), a low tempo one, is probably my favourite one. It's a mostly melodic and keyboard driven track, with a very good sung theme and some sweet, well found instrumental interludes.

ProgQuébec and ProgresSon sponsored the remastered reissue
of "Pollen" and of many other good records. Thanks.

Claude Lemay alternates Genesis-like effects with some more original sounds and his flute, while Richard Lemoyne's 12-string guitar adds a fairy tale atmosphere. I also like Tom Rivest's vocals, ranging between a theatrical tone à la Ange and a full voice, outspread performance. Every time I listen to this song, it seems to me that time slows down and a gentle hand welcomes me into a smiling dimension.