Monday 31 March 2014

Pink Beatles in A Purple Zeppelin (Arjen Anthony Lucassen, 2012)

Progressive rock is always seen by mainstream rockers as a deeply serious and even morn genre, but I think that proggers have more fun instead. Arjen Anthony Lucassen, the Dutch multi-instrumentalist behind Ayreon project, shares my opinion and this song proves it. "Pink Beatles in A Purple Zeppelin" is a musical divertissement taken from the album  "Lost in The New Real", one of the few CDs Arjen released as a soloist. First of all, this catchy melody is an excuse to pay the author's respect to his (and our) rock heroes, but there's more than this, as the lyrics deal with an interesting subject (and a real nightmare for many composers): the lack of new musical ideas. Poor Lucassen sings:

Every song's been sung before,
Every note's been played,
Every chord's been strung before,
And every melody's been made.

Even the album cover was pure fun!

So, what can a musician do by now? Well, prog rock found the only answer to this: if everything has been done, we can still mix up those patterns, melt down those styles. In Arjen's own words:

I just think of what I like
Any blend will do.
They reproduced what's in my mind
But it feels like something new.

That's exactly what proggers do: they merge different worlds and make something that really sounds new. And... they have fun, of course!

Saturday 29 March 2014

One of These Days (Pink Floyd, 1971)

This mostly instrumental track surely is one of the trade marks of Pink Floyd and features one of the most enthralling (double) bass lines ever. It was the opening song of the album "Meddle" and the only lyrics in it are the menacing One of these days I'm going to cut you into little pieces, spoken by Nick Mason and allegedly addressed to a BBC's DJ the band didn't appreciate so much. The music seems like a rising wave, full of tension and running over the listener by gusts.

The single was released in November 1971, b/w "Fearless".

The echoed double bass played by Waters and Gilmour is the most noticeable element of the song, but not the only one, as the whole band contibutes to its striking effect and especially Nick Mason with his usual creative drumming. The track also includes a series of effects and assorted oddities, like the opening wind, Mason's distorted voice or the Doctor Who's TV series theme quotation by Gilmour's guitar. For sure, "One of These Days" is a highly influential song, a real rock evergreen.

Friday 28 March 2014

Summer Suite (Balloon Astronomy, 2011)

Is a prog ballad something that really exists? To answer such a difficult question, here you are "One Summer", the first movement of "Summer Suite", by the American duo Balloon Astronomy and coming from their self titled debut album. If ever there is a single prog ballad in the musical world, this is the one. Featuring a beautiful melody and a clever but unobtrusive arrangement, this song (or movement) is longer and more complex than a traditional pop ballad, but still preserves the freshness and the niceness of its genre. And the lyrics about loss and death narrating a girl's suicide following her mother's illness are simply moving and very, very well written.

This album was a pleasant surprise for my ears...

Take for example the acoustic guitar solo by guest musician Mike Keneally of Frank Zappa's fame or Nick D'Virgilio's drums (yes, he's everywhere!). I think US proggers have a special touch with gentle and catchy tracks just like this one and I enjoy those little pearls with gratitude. The suite goes on with two more typically prog instrumental pieces ("For Jackie" and "Summer Afternoon"), and they're very good too, with a classical taste and a splendid piano, then guitar / keyboards work. The whole suite has a nostalgy mood I adore and I hope the Balloon Astronomy  project will continue... we all need some fresh air, after all!

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Ouverture XV (Pierrot Lunaire, 1974)

One of the best classically oriented prog tracks I've ever listened to. In the flushing Italian prog scene of the '70s, this band featured a strong classical background with Arturo Stalteri's piano and keys, Vincenzo Caporaletti's guitars (plus flute) and Gaio Chiocchio's assorted instruments and tools. It's useful to say that the group's name also has cultivated origins, coming from an Arnold Schönberg's composition.

Pierrot Lunaire released two offiacial albums between 1974 and 1976.
A compilation called "Tre" (2011), features some more unreleased songs.

This opening instrumental song, taken from the band's self titled fiirst album, is based on a beautiful main theme and as many variations, bridges and conterpoints as you could imagine in a baroque music piece. The amount of embellishments they put in a 3:19 minutes track is hardly believablel, from the starting scary effect down to the final piano elicitation. Actually, this is the kind of music providing me with extra power... highly recommended when starting a tough day!

Sunday 23 March 2014

Couleurs (Carpe Diem, 1976)

Carpe Diem are a French band from the '70s. I partucularly love for their unique blend of space moods and mellow melodies. This long suite, lasting some 21 minutes, comes from the group's second and last album "Cueille le Jour", featuring a title that's the French translation of the Latin name of the band ("Seize The Day", a common quotation of Horace's Odes). It's an enthralling trip starting from a very simple theme going into a lot of beautiful and unexpected variations. Other themes and improvisations come in around minute 9:00 and the wind instruments give a slight King Crimson's touch and a jazzy mood to those sections of "Couleurs". Each time the main theme returns it sounds like new and I admire the perfect balance between synphonic, fusion and electronic moments.

Don't worry: "Couleurs" isn't as dark as its album cover...

When the French lyrics come in- we're around minute 13:30 - the track adopts for a while a fully progressive atmosphere à la Ange, but soon the highly innovative and unpredictable choice of Carpe Diem takes over any usual architecture and drives the listener far away from the well known paths. The final section is so rich and surprising I actually can't describe it and it also displays all the instrumental skills of the band in a cheerful ring-around-the rosey closing section not so far from some Zappa's most humorous songs. In one word: enjoy!

Saturday 22 March 2014

Incubus (Marillion, 1984)

Crushed between the overflowing energy of "Script for A Jester's Tear" and the melodic blossoming of "Misplaced Childhood", "Fugazi" album is often underrated in Marillion's discography. But it includes gems as "Incubus" that are worth the greatest attention. First of all, this song has a brilliant melody and a creative rythmic section suitable for the most demading tastes, then comes Fish in one of his best performances ever. Sweet and bitter, quiet and loud, agressive and compliant, all the possible vocal tones are there.

Poor Jester is suffering in his bed... but his music's fine !

The track is build up following the outline of "Script of A Jester's Tear" title track, as it features a succession of melodies and moods in the same harsh / mellow / harsh / mellow /rising / bombastic order. Only, this song also includes longer instrumental solo parts, with a special mention for Steve Rothery's electric guitar heartbreaking dreamy section. Yes, I like this song more and more and I do think it's one of the greatest Marillion tracks during the so called "Fish era".

Friday 21 March 2014

When She Dreams She Dreams in Color (Discipline, 2011)

This epic is one of my faves during the '10s. Despite their name, the American band Discipline creates here a song intro strongly influenced by VDGG and it seems to me Peter Hammill's wings fly over this first part of the track. The slow and sensitive melody is sung with the deepest feelings by Matthew Parmenter. But when the rythm rises up (not too much and just for a while, actually), the rest of the band builds up a wall of sound and a subsequent guitar/ keyboards work not too far from King Crimson's.

Intriguing and essential this cover... just like Discipline's music.

This music is as emotionally charged as a smoking gun can be, featuring a strong carnal tension and a symmetrical spiritual elevation. And when the violin comes in to enrich the 7 minutes instrumental finale, the magic fills the air. There's such a rare balance between moving and ecstatic moments and between epic and lyric tones that everybody realize the reasons of the huge success of the album "To Shatter All Accord".

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Lau Teilatu (Itoiz, 1978)

I was immediately charmed by this folk prog ballad, coming from the debut album of the Basque band Itoiz. "Lau Teilatu" (meaning "Four Roofs") is a pastoral, sweet, intense song featuring acoustic instruments and positive feelings. Even if this album features longer and more progressive songs, first I choose this one for my blog because of its sincerity and its naive, beautiful accents.

Itoiz became very popular in Spain during the early '80s.

Describing the joy of life in their Basque Region countryside, Itoiz seem to offer the key for happiness to their listeners and surely a calm, smiling, warm bridge over daily life and its troubled waters. The song has bicome since its release a hymn to the Basque country and lifestyle, but also a worldwide well known prog anthem. Definitely, you don't need too many intricate plots to write down a good song. Take this one, for example, and be happy for a little while...

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Openings (Sebastian Hardie, 1975)

This "Openings" was actually the 13 minutes closing track of Sebastian Hardie's debut album "Four Moments", released in 1975. Fluid like water, the Australian band's music keeps today all the charms it had back in the '70s and in its classical and blues moments we found the spirit of that era, made of liberty and innovation. The main role in this song is played by Mario Millo's electric guitar, somewhere in the middle between David Gilmour and Eric Clapton, wel supported by the rythm section and Toivo Pilt's keyboards, kind of a gentle and spacey carpet. The latter also has its moment of glory in the second part of the song, where the guitar takes a rest and we fly on his magic carpet for a while. Then, Mr. Millo comes back and graces the song with his best solo.

I like very much the circular logo of the band.

Sebastian Hardie's music is obviously influenced by some UK masters like Pink Floyd, Camel and Mike Oldfield (they even played live "Tubular Bells"), but their music is surely original, featuring its own sinuous and dreamy brand mark. "Four Moments", the album including this instrumental track, and its follower "Windchase" made of them the most influent synphonic rock band of Australia. They're worth a wider recognition, IMHO.

Monday 17 March 2014

The Last Human Gateway (IQ, 1983)

This 20 minutes epic track, taken from IQ's first official album "Tales from The Lush Attic", was born as a proud embankment against the rising tide of prog detractors of the '80s, pretending that prog was dead and buried forever. A few bands - and IQ were among the most active ones - succeeded in crossing such a difficult ford and if prog's still alive we should thank them too (well, them and us, the progfans). This suite isn't necessarily a five star masterpiece, but it's a precious testimony of those dark and heroic era for progressive rock. "The Last Human Gateway" was like a lantern in a gloomy passage and its tempo changes, its floydian keyboards, its gabriel-esque vocals, all in it sounds like a statement of faith.

Released in 1983, "Tales" was finally remixed in 2013.

That said, the historical value of this song doesn't exclude a musical interest: some of its sections are excellent, like the arcane intro, or the "Ocean" part, introduced by sweet guitars and built on a solid and beautiful melody, or the passionate istrumental section launching the  final reprise of the main theme. Sure, IQ were young and artless then, maybe they forged better songs later in their career, but in this suite there's a boldness and a fondness I still miss in many modern proggers' intricate and intellectual compositions. So, long live IQ and their Human Gateway!

Sunday 16 March 2014

In The End (Rush, 1975)

Thaken from Rush's second album "Fly by Night", this song perfectly represents the music they used to do in the first part of their long career. No keyboards at all, but a special taste for tempo changes and emotional peaks. The song consists mostly in a beautiful ballad and we appreciate it in two different arrangement: the first is acoustic and peaceful, the second electric and vigorous. Geddy Lee's vocals switch from a sensitive tone to a screechy one, according to the changing strength and volume of the song.

Always liked this Eraldo Carugati's cover... you can't skip the owl's stare!

Rush have their own special waay to caapture your attention and riveting you till the very end of the track: all seems so easy and so plain the first time you listen to it, then you discover little by little how carefully the song is set up.That's exactly what occured to me with this "In The End": see how the drums come in at the right point, see how the guitar solo acts as a bridge and lights up the song, see how the acoustic guitar closes up the song and Lee's voice fades away. A what about the closing cymbals? Great.

Saturday 15 March 2014

Rapid Eye Movement (Riverside, 2007)

Stunning. This 12:37 minutes track, originally conceived as part of the Reality Dream Trilogy, was finally released in the bonus disc included in a special edition of "Rapid Eye Movement" CD. So, strangely, the album title track wasn't included in its standard edition! I love this instrumental track, reminding me some old Tangerine Dream suite for its gradual and clever building up and also for its strong electronic flavour.

This song was also included in the "Schizophrenic Prayer" EP.

The suspended, increasingly sorrowful mood of this song also includes some more relaxed and open breaks, somehow concurring to the weirdness of the big picture. Piotr Grudziński's guitar plays an essential role, fluctuating from Gilmour-esque to psychedelic tones and actually biting the listener's soul. It's a secret trip into human fears and nightmares, an intimate exploration, a dream and a nightmare. And one of the main reasons why I included Riverside in my fave bands list.

Friday 14 March 2014

The City And The Crystal (Tempus Fugit, 1997)

The word crystal in the title says it all about this 7 minutes song taken from the Brazilian band Tempus Fugit (what does this name remind me of ?) debut album, "Tales from A Forgotten World" (no, not "from Topographic Oceans"...). This is a transparent, classic, melodic prog track, mostly instrumental, including a great work on keyboard background effects and a fluid, even moving melody neatly played on electric guitar by Henrique Simoes.

Tempus Fugit released three studio albums to date.
The piano adds its own soul to the track and André Mello shows up his classical touch. The tempo changes are very interesting, as the sound sweetly switches up and down, exploring a pleasant, lush and colourful universe. The short sung section (with English lyrics), almost hidden towards the end of the track, perfectly closes up the song, confirming the clear and full blended taste of this musical cup of tea. Drink it, my friends, drink it and enjoy it!

Thursday 13 March 2014

Scottish Suite (Anthony Phillips, 1980)

IMHO, this 15 minutes classically arranged suite is a gem. It comes from "Private Parts and Pieces II: Back to the Pavilion", the second Ant's compilation of previously recorded but never released materials. This track, in particular, was originally conceived as part of a wider and never achieved musical translation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth and was recorded in June 1976.The sub-title of the piece, "A collection of Scottish Salmon farmer's songs and 12th century Paraguayan tin-miner's threnodies" reflects the tricky and challenging plot of the suite, divided in five movements (by the way, a threnody is a mourning song, but please don't ask me about Paraguayan tin-miners habits!!).

Peter Cross created this beautiful cover for Ant's album.

That said, the suite is a splendid instrumental piece of music, full of good melodies, pleasant electric and acoustic guitar harmonies and rythm changes. The romantic vein of Phillips meets here a somewhat edgy and even scary mood, a gloomy side of Ant's music we appreciate now and then in his huge discography. In addiction to this, Mike Rutherford's 12 string guitar graces the second movement, titled "Salmon Leap". Each movement has its own secial charm and still, as different as they are, they perfectly match. Each time I listen to this track I'm taken by its delicate balance of stength and delicacy... don't loose it, if you can.

Wednesday 12 March 2014

Ghost Town Nightmare 荒城梦魇 (Cold Fairyland 冷酷仙境, 2007)

I knew that - sooner or later - a Chinese prog rock track would surface in my blog. And still, I couldn't have imagined such a beautiful one. This "Ghost Town Nightmare" isn't a nightmare, it's a sweet and pleasant dream. Full of Eastern folk moments, it is nevertheless a perfect modern prog song, with all the changes and the delicate feelings one could desire.

In this album the band went acoustic. And they did it very well.

Taken from the third band's album, "Seeds on The Ground" (地上的种子), this downtempo track features (as the whole allbum does) an acoustic arrangement including the traditional instruments pipa and ruan, played by Lin Di, whose sweet vocals I really like. An universe of ancient legends, mysterious nature and pure skies materialize before your very eyes and a deep fascination takes you away from the material world. A new and reviving experience I highly recommend to you all. And 你好 or nǐ hǎo if you better like!

Tuesday 11 March 2014

M (Frames, 2010)

There's a whole new generation of minimalist proggers (or maybe post-rockers) born in Germany making an interesting kind of music, both modern and reminiscent of the past. The foursome Frames are among them and this "M", the closing instrumental epic of their debut album "Mosaik", is an excellent specimen of their songs.

True, they could try another photographer, after all...
...but their music shouldn't change!

The sweet and moody intro becomes a biting electric guitar theme, then comes back to piano and keys and builds up another beautiful variation build on sweeter arpeggios and some electronic devices. There's a touch of Tangerine Dream here, well, more than a touch I daresay. Then the music softly stops and after 1:30 minutes of silence the rest of the song, a swinging keyboards and drums driven section, comes in just like a ghost track. This is a lively and enthralling theme, featuring an excellent cymbal work, a catchy melody and some distorted guitars as a bonus finale. Hypnotic, that's the word.

Monday 10 March 2014

Hymne à la vie (Ange, 1976)

Taken from the album "Par les fils de Mandrin", this little suite (meaning in English "Hymn to Life") is one of my favourite Ange's songs ever. It's a little suite - less than 10 minutes of duration - divided in three parts. The first and longer one, "Cantique", is a sweet acoustic ballad featuring an excellent melody and an aerial arrangement midway between folk and prog.

In 1976, "Par les fils de Mandrin" was also re-recorded in English,
titled "By The Sons of Mandrin", but this version wasn't released till 2003.

The second part, "Procession", has a measured rythm and a beautiful flute-like keyboard effect. Here, the sung theme is even catchier than the previous one and Christian Decamps shows off all his well kmown theatrical skills. I also appreciate the electric guitar riffs, giving a stronger '70s mood to the section. The last part, "Hymne", features more guitars and drums, bombastic vocals and a keyboard progression of chords as a foggy finale. The pastoral side of Ange is on the foreground in this song and the band's sweeter mood strikes me.

Sunday 9 March 2014

And We'll Go Hunting Deer (Pendragon, 1991)

I'll never be able to describe the kick I get inside me each time I listen to the intro of "And We'll Go Hunting Deer". Just a few piano touches and a sad melody, but oh so well done! And the rest of the song - taken from the album "The World" - is just the same to me, a series of inner sensations and delicate feelings. Many proggers out there will twist their noses and find such a track too mellow for them. But I love it. There's an easy prog rock inside this song, a beautiful guitar - well, we all know Mr. Barrett - but the way Nick shows off his feelings is simply striking.

So many good songs in this album...

The suspended moods he creates along with his fellows and the impressionistic way the band have to paint a world apart reach a peak in this song and I loose my mind inside such a fairy and colourful world. It'a quite a positive song, I daresay optimistic. Clive Nolan and his keyboards are like rays of light from behind the hills and if there aren't many tempo changes here, the rythm drives me mad. So, excuse me, I must put this song in my blog.

Friday 7 March 2014

La poderosa muerte (Los Jaivas, 1981)

This track comes from a seminal Chilean prog folk album, titled "Alturas de Macchu Picchu", a successful blend of poetry, folk roots and prog rock. Los Jaivas are decided to put down in music Pablo Neruda's same titled poem inspired by Machu Picchu ruins, exploiting both traditional sounds (usually a sampled version of them) and prog rock musical features.

This was the eighth Los Jaiva's studio album.

This track, in particular, has e synphonic and experimental outward, driven pay piano and drums and leading to a surpisingly catchy finale. Even if this music isn't bombastic nor showy, there's a sense of wonder and grandeur in its measured pace, something about eternal human effort to leave a mark on the face of our planet. I can see the towering mountains and their perennial fog, the terraced remains and the winding paths ascending the green slopes. And also an inner reflection about our destiny and our place in the natural world. Not usual, never trivial.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Evening Games (Satellite, 2004)

Here's another excellent epic by Satellite, from Poland. "Evening Games" is the title track of their 2004 album and has all I like in a (neo) prog song. Let's see: many mood and tempo changes, atmospheric and heavy passages, beautiful keyboards, an excellent guitar work, effective and passionate vocals. Should I ask for more? Well, there is more. Actually, there are very well found melodies and some emotional peaks. The technical skills are important, no doubt, but it's only when a tack moves me that I'm compelled to listen to it again and again.

"Evening Games" was the second album by Satellite.

This happened with "Evening Games" and its 16:45 minutes litterally fly away in the blink of an eye. Those guys know how to mix old and familiar prog sounds and innovative solutions, bombastic riffs and pastoral paintings. Last but not least, they succeed in keeping such a long song under control, meaning their musical architecture is strong and perfectly planned: each passage finds its place in the big picture. Not so easy, my friends...

Tuesday 4 March 2014

The Pilgrims Inn (Roine Stolt, 1994)

If you like guitar driven tracks, this one's for you. It's a 9 minutes track divided in two parts, coming from Stolte's third solo album, called "The Flower King", announcing in its title (and in some of the musicians involved) the forthcoming band of The Flower Kings. In this instrumental piece, Roine Stolt shows up all his skills, building up an intense and diverse track, where he explores all sides of melodic electric guitar, with his own style and also paying his respect to such masters as Steve Hackett, Steve Howe and David Gilmour.

This solo project virtually started up The Flower King's career.

The main theme of "The Pilgrims Inn" is very well found and I like all its variations, let alone the excellent additional melodies. Keyboards, also played by Stolte, and Ulf Wallander's sax add an atmospheric touch to the song, that I parcularly appreciate, but always changing tempos and moods turn away all risks of humdrum. Definitely one of Roine Stolt's best things I've ever listened to.

Monday 3 March 2014

Man-Erg (Van Der Graaf Generator, 1971)

What can I say of this track? The first adjective it suggests me is moving. And actually moving is Peter Hammill's intro, featuring his sad voice over a heartbreaking chord progression and his suggestive lyrics. Then the band comes in and an epic riff introduces the second sung part, waving and swinging like water and including David Jackson's smooth sax. Another wall of sound, then Peter comes back with his first theme, but here you'll find rage instead of sadness and a bit of disharmony until the epic riff ends up the song.

Inside the LP's gatefold... the weird VDGG's world.

Moving, as I said and in the double meaning of this word: "Man-Erg" touches my heart and moves away all my boundaries, all the prejudices, all the labels I put on music, too. If evere there was an unpredictable song, this is the one. I still like to follow its widing path, I'm delighted to discover something new each time, I adore how this music caresses me and strikes me down. Thank you for the music, old friends of mine.

Sunday 2 March 2014

Mystery (Karfagen, 2010)

One of the few Ukraine prog rock bands, Karfagen (meaning Karthago) are the artistic son of kjeyboardist and composer Antony Kalugin and accordionist Sergei Kovalev. This 22 minutes suite comes from their fourth studio album, "Solitary Sandpiper Journey" and I really like it. It's a melodic track divided into five movements, including some beautiful keyboard progressions, long electric guitar solos, a constant dialogue between those two instruments and also some remarkable choral arrangements. You'll find here a scent of Renaissance and a pinch of neo-prog, but also some electric guitar slightly jazz improvisations and a few poppish tentations (not bad, after all).

This is a very good album, with no fillers inside.

The accordion adds an original mood to the big picture and a pleasant chamber orchestra comes in now and then, including cello, flute, oboe, basson, viola and violin. All is well done, IMHO, and I like all the passages, with a special mention for Marina Zacharova's soprano voice and Roman Gorielov's acoustic guitar (I would have liked more of this...). A scarcely known band that's worth a keen listening. I'll surely explore more of their discography.

Saturday 1 March 2014

El principio del fin (Atila, 1976)

This is an epic track by the Spanish prog band Atila comes from their second album "Intención", and it's actually a new and condensed version of their first work. This re-worked material has the form of a suite of more than 15 minutes, dominated by keyboards and electric guitars. There are different moods and tempos here, and the contrast between the classical organ sound and the acid, psychedelic guitar is one of the best features of the epic.

The whole "Intención" album is excellent.
The starting idea of "El principio del fin" is the reinterpretations of J.S. Bach's very famous "Toccata and Fugue in D minor", then the music goes on its own way, opening stunning, seldom disquieting atmoospheres. And if Eduardo Niebla's guitars and Benet Nogue's keyboards are  always in the foreground, we also appreciate the rythm section, punctuating and somehow warming the whole piece. So, this track is one more arcane trip into music, one of those trips we appreciate in the '70s prog rock universe.