Tuesday 29 April 2014

Speak (I And Thou, 2012)

This is the 12 minutes opening track from English musician Jason Hart's musical project and album of the same name. This guy is a current (2013) member of Renaissance's latest incarnation, played in Rufus Wainwrigth's band and gathered some good musicians for this CD, including Marillion's Steve Hogarth covering a Wainwright's song.  This project really is a Multi-National one, as most of the musicians involved are well known American session men. I was really impressed when I first came to listen to this record. It reminded me the Alan Parsons Project, but with a more prog band twist. This song, in particular, is based on an excellent sung melody and the eventual instrumental variations show how much Jason learned listenting more and more to his '70s and '80s models and how much he created his own trademark anyway.
A colourful waterfall: the art and the music are one.
And it's a painting by Annie Haslam...
One of the best features in "Speak" is the bass work, by John Gargano, supporting and enriching Jason Hart's piano and assorted keyboards. Another winning point is the neat and round sound, so deep and definite, just like a scented spring evening. This isn't an adventurous song, nor an experimental track, but we all need sometimes a little musical rest. And this is the best one I can imagine for me.

Monday 28 April 2014

Shadows of The Past (Neverness, 2009)

This is the 11 minutes closing track from Neverness' third album (the first one in English), titled "The Measure of The Time". Those Spanish boys treat me with a spacey up and down tempo song, floating on an ocean of keyboards and featuring in the first part a pleasant distorted guitar, something not so easy to do, but then this is my own opinion... and I'm not at all into metal. The sound is neat and deep, the tempo changes are as surprising as they should be and the main theme is very good.  Of course, I adore their atmospheric passages, where Javier Nieto shows a bouquet of guitar effects.

This cover's not so original, but the music inside has its own taste.

There's also a sweet piano & voice section between minutes 8 and 9, flowing into a bombastic and still melodic wall of sound, a perfect finale for the song. Two more special mentions go to Nieto's vocals, not mighty maybe, but always perfectly tuned to the lyrics and to  Víctor Pérez, whose keyboards provide a mixed background, reminiscent of the '70s and also not so far from some Dream Theater's solutions. A good track for the ecstatic minds.

Sunday 27 April 2014

Don't Forget Us (Flamborough Head, 2009)

Taken from their album "Looking for John Maddock", this 8:21 minutes instrumental includes all the best qualities I recognize to Flamborough Head. Mostly, there's a real passion for melodies, something they never forget and they always put as a foundation stone in each song of theirs. Take the flute intro of this track: sweet and essential, this theme works as a fil rouge all along the song, even when the keyboards come in to twist it.

"Looking for John Maddock" was the sixth FH's studio album.

Even then, that melody is there and you know it will no doubt reappear, sooner or later. In fact, it comes back magnificently via the final dreaming guitar solo, and this seems like a fulfillment, a glorious prog seal closing the track. Soft but never sweetish, mostly down tempo and still varied, brilliant and modern in its sound, nonetheless reminiscent of the '70s, I do think this song is a perfect way to approach this band's music and also to start a new day.

Saturday 26 April 2014

Ammonia Avenue (The Alan Parsons Project, 1984)

One of the most progressive songs from Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson and one of the best melodies in their career, IMHO. The inspiration for this 1984 title track  was provided by a Woolfson's visit to an impressive ammonia plant in Billingham (North East of England), then owned by Imperial Chemical Industries. The huge succession of metal pipes, somewhat replacing the trees along the main avenue crossing the site, suggested to Woolfson a concept about scientific development and its impact both on the Earth and on human culture. Interestingly, this same plant allegedly inspired the SF novel "Brave New World"  by Aldous Huxley, who visited its construction site in the late 1920s.

Billingham ammonia plant... definitely a forest of pipes.

Now, for the track itself. The first half is an intimate Eric's vocal performance, lead by piano, enriched by a discreet orchestration and followed by a beautiful instrumental section, beginning with acoustic guitar and growing up like a fully prog keys / guitar / orchestra interplay. The sung theme comes back around minute 4:50 flowing to a bombastic chorus and a final fading arpeggio. I think this is a cleverly arranged track, based on a solid composition work and really, really British too, for what it's worth.

Friday 25 April 2014

A Kid Called Panic (Moon Safari, 2010)

Taken from Moon Safari's third studio album "Lover's End", this rather long song (some 13 minutes) has everything I like in this band's music. Catchy and choral sung melodies, excellent instrumental passages, a fresh and joyful mood, in short: the strength of youth. Despite its title, this song is a light trip into colourful realms, with a touch of proto-prog era and even - now and then - a Beatles-like composition and arrangement.

A fresher face for symphonic rock. That's what Moon Safari is.

All the rest is pure symphonic rock, with enthralling keyboard / guitar interplays, a creative drumming, a discreet but effective bass line and an overwhelming fantasy throughout the track. When listening to this, I feel my faith in prog rising up and I need to press the back button on my CD player to restart the song. Should I say more?

Thursday 24 April 2014

Chronologie Part 2 (Jean-Michel Jarre, 1993)

Famous for his musical and entertainment records and unusual challenges, widely celebrated for his pharaonic shows featuring tons of strange instruments, Jean-Michel Jarre is the most recent incarnation of the French grandeur, the heir of the Belle-époque science heroes like Jules Verne or the Lumière brothers (he's from Lyon too, after all). But he also happens to be a great musician and a highly creative composer. The "Chronologie" album, in particular, is a brilliant piece of symphonic music as this "Part 2" proves perfectly well.

Jarre & his best friends...

The majestic sounds and the bombastic keyboard riffs are arranged in a series of breathtaking crescendos and breaks, making up an almost visual kind of music, an enthralling, powerful wall of sound. The live version of this track, included in the "Hong Kong" album (1995), is even better, with a whole (prog) band playing like hell. That's why I daresay that Jarre's flaws also are his strength. By the way, let's draw a veil over his recent love affair with DJ music... it may be great, but it's not my cup of tea.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Melrose (Tangerine Dream, 1990)

Tangerine Dream's discography is simply exceeding, more than a hundred titles, including studio albums, live recordings and original soundtracks, not to mention reissues and compilations. I beg that's why some of their albums are seldom neglected. Unfortunately, this is the case with "Melrose", whose title track I'm introducing here. As this song demomstrates, this early '90s version of TD isn't mere ambient music at all: you'll find here two fully developed themes, a keen work on programming and a clever choice of warm electronic sounds.

Paul Haslinger left the band after this album in 1990.
The human factor is also important, as the second theme is played on sax by guest musician Hubert Waldner and, believe me, this is a real emotional peak. As usual, Tangerine Dream mix electronic paraphernalia and melodic skills in a special trademark blend going over the decades and the unavoidable ups and downs of such an overwhelming activity. Each time I listen to Melrose, I feel something good going up my spine and I remember how grateful we should be to this bunch of old boys over there...

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Silence Reigns (Fruitcake, 1998)

Some months ago, I was looking for some new prog music, but I wanted something with a plain, catchy melody asin was during the glorious proto-prog era. And I found this unusual and apparently naive theme floating on a mellotron and acoustic guitars ocean. How beautiful, how relaxing, how discreet this song is. Fruitcake are a Norwegian band with a rich and interesting discography, and this was exactly the song I was serching for.

"Power Structure"was the fifth Fruitcake's album.

Despite its unassuming intro, "Silence Reigns", the closing track from the album "Power Structure", evolves into a full grown symphonic rock song, but never loses its freshness. So, after a powerful instrumental section, the main theme comes back and it's like meeting an old good friend. That's how Fruitcake saved my day!

Monday 21 April 2014

Down by The Sea (Strawbs, 1973)

Taken fron the Strawbs' most successful album, "Bursting at The Seams", this song isn't a commercial one at all. Full of sadness and visions, it features in its first half a suspended vocal performance floating downtempo on a changing landscape, including some folk resonances. The second, mostly instrumental section is a treat... the song was inspired by a walk along the Dover sea wall and Dave Cousins actually captures the sound of the waves and the seashore changing moods. 

"Bursting at The Seams" peaked at number 2 in the UK Charts.

That's why the track is clearly divided into two different movements, the first one depicting the rage of waters and the second one illutrating their eventual stillness. I like such a two-faced track and I admire the Strawbs' mastery when it comes to echoes and musical depth. It is also interesting to observe here that this song is often played after the ballad "The River", to form kind of a suite. Anyway, "Down by The Sea" has an unusual architecture (I think Marillion did something like this many years later with "Easter") and an excellent way of mixing different genres and atmospheres... that's the prog, baby.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Clearlight Symphony - 1st Movement (Clearlight, 1973)

Clearlight is a musical project by the French artist Cyrille Verdeaux, started in 1973 with the "Clearlight Symphony" whose 20 minutes first movement I'm introducing here. Classically trained, Mr. Verdeaux plays a lot of keyboards in this track, meaning all the models he could find in 1973. But this track also features important contributions from as good musicians as Steve Hillage (guitars) of Gong fame and Tim Blake (adfditional synths and percussions), who played with Gong too and also with Hawkwind. This movement begins with two classically inspired sections (the first and the third section, but Verdeaux didn't divide his track, so I'm doing it myself) and a free experimental and psychedelic second section.

Cyrille Verdeaux also released a "Clearlight Symphony II" in 1990.

I really like this strong melodic / experimental contrast, so that when Hillage comes in - in what I'd call the fourth part of the suite - all is ready for an emotional peak. Then, the piano introduces another experimental phase, including a piano / electronic keys interplay and at last the grand finale appears with all the bombastic effects you can imagine. I'm sure many of you will like this track (and the whole album) as Cyrille Verdeaux really put in it a bit of anything an old prog fan is looking for.

Saturday 19 April 2014

Madre Tierra (Flor de Loto, 2007)

Flor de Loto are a foursome band from Peru and they represent a brilliant fusion of folk roots with prog rock essence. The abundance of flutes (basically replacing the keyboards) build up an Andean atmosphere reminiscent of ancient civilisations, but then the guitars and the drumming (and even a short '70s choral section) add now and then a modern prog rock mood. I also like the tempo changes, all so pleasant and surprising in this "Madre Tierra" ("Mother Earth" in English), the title track of Flor de Loto's second studio album.

...And I also like all their cover paintings!

Two more special mentions: the first one is for the acoustic guitar, linking the sweetest sections of the song to the big picture; the second one goes to the enthralling finale of the track, sharp and up tempo like in the best prog rock families! Believe me, this band is worth your attention. A gift for my prog and open minded friends.

Friday 18 April 2014

All in Good Time - part one (Glass Hammer, 2000)

Glass Hammer actually are an excellent band and many fans consider their 2000 album "Chronometree" as their best work. "All in Good Time" fills the greatest part of the CD, split in two parts, each one a suite of its own. The first one features six movements for a total duration of 23 minutes. It's a varied, symphonic, well structured epic whose recurring themes and musical solutions show a keen study of classic era prog and also a personal and never-too-serious reinterpretation of that materials. Later in their career, maybe Glass Hammer went too much Yes-oriented, but here you'll find a well balanced inspiration feeding a richly textured music.

One of the best prog albums of the early 2000s, IMHO.

The lyrics are also worth some words. It's a rare case of meta-prog , as we learn the story of Tom, an obsessive prog fan who begins to hear mysterious messages from outer space hidden into his "Close to The Edge" microgrooves. So, he listens to it more and more and even writes down those aliens' messages about a mysterious science called Chronometree. Finally, he gets a nocturnal meeting with the ETs... but unfortunately they don't spring up. So, in the second part of the suite, Tom is obviously disappointed, but - at least - his notes about Chronometree are still there. Those are ironic and clever lyrics matching with an excellent music!

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Fylingdale Flyer (Jethro Tull, 1980)

Tull's "A" album inspired mixed feelings to the band's fans back in 1980. I still think today that it was severely underrated. Take this "Fylingdale Flyer", for example. It's a solid, pleasant, highly tull-esque song, with an excellent melody, folk rock harmonies, surprising tempo changes, Anderson's flute and a very good bass guitar work. Kind of an abstract of all the band's typical features... some things never change, I daresay.

"A" was the thirteenth Jethro Tull's studio album.

Actually there is something new and this innovation arose some acid remarks: guest musician Eddie Jobson's keyboards. True, electronic effects hardly fit in Jethro Tull's music, but I like Jobson's work in this song: he's clever and discreet, just adding some '80s flavour to a tasty pie. Just a final note: the whole album was originally intended as a Ian Anderson's solo LP, then it switched to a band's release. This explains the "A" title, but the final result is a fully Jethro Tull's work, as this song proves too well, IMHO.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Mysterious Monolith (Eloy, 1981)

We all should be more grateful to Eloy. They were one of the very few European bands having such a long and continuous discography through five decades despite all the musical changes around them. In particular, their early '80s production encouraged the neo-prog movement and was an unfailing source of inspiration in the darkest days of progressive rock. The album "Planets" was released in 1981, featuring a complex science fiction concept, kind Space Opera meets Cosmogony, and this track is by far my favourite one from this project.

Eloy's discography includes 18 studio albums to date.

It's a 7:42 minutes song with lots of tempo and arrangements changes, beautiful melodies and very good solos too. Based on traditional symphonic rock solutions, "Mysterious Monolith" also features a good deal of electronic sounds and these updated keyboards proved full of consequences in the forthcoming neo-prog era. Despite the strange lyrics about a weird and almighty monolith, this song has an emotional charge I really like.

Monday 14 April 2014

Preludium (Quaterna Réquiem, 2012)

Quaterna Requiem is a Brazilian band whose core members are keyboardist Elisa Wiermann and drummer Claudio Dantas, not to mention Kléber Vogel's splendid violin. They produced some very good albums, like "O Arquiteto", whose opening track "Preludium" I'm introducing here. It's an eleven minutes instrumental track (weel, the whole album has no vocals), full of epic and also romantic atmosphere, gradually rising up from the piano intro through the guitar-driven middle part to the keyboard festival  finale.

This is Quaterna Réquiem's fourth studio album.

There's no definite melody in this song, but its architecture is excellent, with different sections following one another, liked by keys and a measured mood, never too morn and never too bombastic. I like the keys, the guitars and their original interplays in this track, and I also recommend it for its exciting cavalcade rythm, something classical and modern in the same time. They didn't change prog history those guys, but they surely added something good to it.

Sunday 13 April 2014

The Angel And The Soldier Boy (Clannad, 1989)

Sure, Clannad don't belong to the progressive family, strictly speaking. But if they're not relatives, they're very good friends, as this beautiful suite demonstrates. This was the O.S.T. of a poetic animation movie based on a children's picture book by English author Peter Collington. In its more than 51 minutes, the CD contains both the music (first track, some 25 minutes) and the narration of the story (second track, 26 minutes), read by Scottish actor Tom Conti.

If ever you need some relaxing moments...

The music themes are very sweet and feature excellent arrangements, describing 18 different scenes. The suite begins with the main theme, the only sung part, where we can appreciate once more Ciarán Brennan's pure voice. This theme also closes up the suite in an instrumental version. The rest of the song is a treat for keyboard effects lovers, but also for those of you liking dreamy and nostalgy music, featuring a childhood taste and a bit of sadness too. Clannad inspired so many bands out there...

Friday 11 April 2014

Carry on Wayward Son (Kansas, 1976)

One of those widely known songs despite their patent prog inspiration. And this one's got all the features a hit should have: a catchy chorus, an enthralling rythm, a splendid vocal performance and a good 5 minutes of length. But this is also a prog song, displaying some tempo changes, a wide range of acoustic and electric instruments, a well structured interplay and even kind of a division into sections. The spirit of European prog, filtered through a strong American mainstream rock culture, results in a perfectly balanced up-tempo song.

This single was certified Gold, peaking at #11 in US charts.
Unfortunately, it's an edited version of 3:26 minutes.

The choral intro featuring the chorus of the song is stunning, then we enjoy the guitar riff - with a bonus piano - and a short guitar solo, followed by a melodic sung section and the chorus. The track goes on with more verse and chorus, then a different guitar riff and even a Hammond - electric guitar dialogue. Wow... there's a bit of everything here! And don't miss the guitar-lead finale. Pure music, pure joy.

Thursday 10 April 2014

Afraid of Sunlight (Marillion, 1995)

One of my favourite songs ever. That said, this deep, obscure and bittersweet piece of music is the title track of 1995 Marillion's album, kind of a hidden concept album about fame, decline and death. It's a highly emotional song, based on a sharp exploration of the inner regions of conscience. Hogarth's performance is one of the most sensible of his career, featuring a wide range of feelings and perfectly supported by a warm and well-calibrated ryhtm section.

Some fans say this song is about a vampyre.
I dont' think so, but there's definitely a dark mood in the track.

The instumental section is like a dark dream and Steve Rothery's guitar solo... well, it's a Steve Rothery's solo! I recommend to listen to this track just after its campanion song "Afraid of Sunrise" (the album's fourth track) to appreciate the delicate variations of the same main theme. But then, I understand, it would be difficult to cut away "Out of This World" that saparates the two "Afraids". Well... just try!

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Tom Bombadill (Isildurs Bane, 1981)

Back in 1981, this excellent Swedish band released their debut album, "Sagan om Ringen", dedicated (well, they were not the only one) to Tolkien's books. In particular, this mostly instrumental track describes one of the most funny and interesting characters from "Lord of The Rings" trilogy, Tom Bombadill. And funny this music is, with an original, almost funky approach to prog I rarely listened to anywhere else.

Left: the original cover art od 1981 LP.
Right: the 1992 CD reissue, also including "Sagan om den Irländska Älgen".

The creative percussions and the bass line on the background are among the best features of the song, but I can't forget the guitar, playing the lead role, nor the discreet and effective keyboards, drawing the basic pattern of the track. I don't especially like the rest of the album (Isildurs Bane surely did better things during their career), but this enthralling and unusual track lingers on in my ears...

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Favole antiche (Celeste, 1976)

What a strange destiny was Celeste's! This Italian band (not to be confused with the French same named one) realised for a very little label their debut album in 1976, the only official one, without any commercial success, so that they disbanded very soon. But when prog rock came back during the early '90s their old work became sort of a cult album, widely known and appreciated and even their never released songs surfaced (released by their leader's well known prog label) getting more and more international acclaim.

This album was self named, but it's also known as
"Principe di un giorno" by its opening track title.

This song, "Favole antiche" (Ancient Fairytales, in English) perfectly represents their style, made of mellow melodies, acoustic arrangements and  dreaming low tempo moods. Their main inspiration was PFM's early albums, but you'll find a more delicate and melodic taste, a quiet, inner musical touch, a sweetest flavour I like so much. Never too intricated, this song is based on plain melodies and a stunning succession of classical solutions featuring flute, sax, guitars, gentle percussions and violin. A treat for an old méli-mélo guy as I am...

Saturday 5 April 2014

Rozmowa (Collage, 1990)

This song comes from Collage's first album, titled "Basnie", meaning "Fairytales", that's saying something! Please note that a previous version of this song (1986) was also released in the "Changes" compilation. Sure, "Basnie" production was a little disappointing and there were also some lack in the musical coherence of the longer songs, but the band's potential was great and clear. This "Rozmowa" (the word for it in English is "Conversation") is a splendid example of their bright and variated progressive rock. Keyboards and guitars are in the foreground, of course, but all the band's skills contribute to the track.

Collage finally re-united in 2013 and planned a series of shows.

The changing rythm and the clever arrangement are winning points for a song whose main feature is the compact and cohesive architecture, where instrumental and sung sections follow one another in a whirling but never messy pattern. I even like the spoken effects in the background, something I usiually don't appreciate so much. An excellent closing song for a debut album announcing so many good things to come.

Friday 4 April 2014

Abacab (Genesis, 1981)

This is one of the strangest and most interesting songs by the Genesis' trio lineup. Opening the same titled LP, the album version of "Abacab" is nearly 7 minutes long and includes a long instrumental section and an outro, both edited out in the single version. Please consider what I'm going to say as strictly related to the longer version. The band changed its traditional sound very much, still in this track they kept the originality and the unpredictability a prog song - and especially a Genesis one - should have.

Even the cover was something unusual for the band.

The vigorous  rythmic pattern of "Abacab" provides a fil rouge combining an essential melody and a stunning series of variations sounding like improvisations in the instrumental parts. The lyrics seem nonsense, and even the titled was a puzzling one until the band explained that the song sections were labelled as A, B and C, then put together in the A-B-A-C-A-B order.  I sure was surprised when listening to this the first time, 'cause I scarcely recognised Genesis there, but in time I really appreciated this song (not the whole album, maybe) and its harsh and even funny sounds. After all, it is a higly creative music... and that's the essence of prog, isn't it...

Thursday 3 April 2014

The Other Side of Morning 音楽的特徴 (Shingetsu 新月, 1979)

One of the sweetest melodies I've ever listened to, one of the most delicate and clever prog ballad arrangements to date. That would be enough for my introduction, but there's something more I'd like to say. You'll also find in my little blog a post concerning "Oni", the fully synphonic opening track of the sole Shingetsu album, possibly their masterpiece, but this is something completely different.

Lead singer Kitayama liked fancy costumes and masks.

"The Other Side of Morning" really shows the other side of the band, a little more catchy, a little less intricated, definitely fresh and pleasant. Like a haiku poem, in a few minutes this song paints a magic and inner watercolour where natural elements and deep emotions merge, both driven by Makoto Kitayama's beautiful voice. A relaxing but never trivial experience I highly recommend to you all.

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Trans-Europa Express / Metal auf Metal (Kraftwerk, 1977)

Also known with their English titles "Trans-Europe Express" and "Metal on Metal", these two linked songs (a suite, in fact) are among the most known tracks from Kraftwerk, the German band who so strongly contributed to define electronic music domain. Retro and romantic, full of rail and train effects, this music explores the smoky journeys of European travellers of the roaring twenties and builds up a fading grey picture that perfectly matches with the most updated electronics of the '70s.

The German single including the first part of the suite.

Old and new merge in a soft and hypnotic sound and you just have to close your eyes to see stylish men and elegant women crowding the platforms of an Art Nouveau station and passing through the gates leading to a Parisian boulevard. Really, it's hardly believable how distorted vocals and futuristic effects get old fashioned and melodic... and even the reference in the lyrics to David Bowie and Iggy Pop sounds like a genuine Weimar Germany era announcement. These were just a few reasons to include this suite in my blog.