Friday 30 May 2014

Stuff And Nonsense (Split Enz, 1979)

Split Enz are one of the very few prog related bands from New Zealand. They were a very eclectic group, playing almost everything: pop, mainstream rock, new wave, art rock and, of course, an easy-going version of progressive rock. This song, taken from the album "Frenzy", is a good specimen of the latter. It sounds a little like Supertramp meet Bee Gees, but the orchestral side here is more discreet and the melody is sadder. A short instrumental bridge, anyway, gives a deeper touch to what we could call an easy song with a special feeling.

"Frenzy" was probably the last prog related album by Split Enz.

The sung theme is excellent, the piano touches are classy, the vocals are warm and neat, the way they used to be in the '70s, not too far from BJH or The Moody Blues. I really like to put in my CD reader a good, old plain song between two challenging prog tracks, and "Stuff And Nonsense" is exactly what I mean. Even the title seems to suggest a traditional, catchy tune. But if you listen to this more than one time, I bet you'll find some more stuff in it...

Thursday 29 May 2014

Traum (Hoelderlin, 1972)

No doubt, Hoelderlin (also written Hölderlin in their first album) are one of the most interesting German prog bands of the Golden era. Their tasty folk inspiration and the romantic aura of their compositions are very strong points and they also had a creative and unpredictable approach to music. The instrumental "Traum" (that's "Dream" in English) comes from debut album "Hölderlins Traum" and it's a 7 minutes track featuring all sorts of magic tools and inspiring solutions.

Hoelderlin also reunited in 2007 to release the album "8".

The acoustic instruments (guitars and flute, above all) and the discreet electric ones are supported by a colourful set of percussions, while the rythms and the moods change and swing all the time. The band's name come from a German poet of the Romantic movement (as for the band Novalis) and actually the deep interest for cultural roots and free inspiration reminds me some Sturm und Drang's  experiments, but "Traum" also proves how this band liked to mix different sources and moods to create something new.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Subdivisions (Rush, 1982)

This song opens "Signals", the album Rush released in 1982 and it's one of the band's more captivating tracks, also released as a single. The strongest point in it is the very well found melody Geddy Lee sings with his usual strength. But the arrangement, including some very interesting instrumental sections, adds an additional value to the big picture. The airy guitar riffs - a trademark of Rush sound - are less commen here and you'll find instead a constant presence of keyboards, providing kind of a plastic and claustrophobic background to the song. Nonetheless, the double keys then guitar solo toward the end of the track is tipically Rush and gives to "Subdivisions" a slightly optimistic touch. The lyrics are about the rigid rules and limited sense of communion in modern urban life, well represented by housing subdivisions, so common in our suburbs.

"Signals" was the ninth studio album of Rush.

The band depicts such a pityful but comfortable lifestyle adopting a stressing rythm and some electronic effects. They describe youth's life in those geometric boundaries with strong accents. Here you are:

Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone

Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone
And prog is for the dreamer, isn't it?

Tuesday 27 May 2014

My Room (Waiting for Wonderland) (Van Der Graaf Generator, 1976)

Taken from "StillLife", the album released in 1976 by VDGG, "My Room (Waiting for Wonderland)" is a stunning, heartbreaking song, at least IMHO. Peter Hammill's vocals are even more sensitive and sadder than usual, performing on a deep tone a splendid, sweet theme. His voice is constantly doubled and supported by David Jackson's sax and Guy Evans' gentle drumming. In the long instrumental finale the main theme is still there, played by Hugh Banton on bass guitar, the rest of the band creating a Smoky, free arabesque around it, not to mention the discreet piano touches.

"Still Life" isn't an easy album to listen to. But then, a VDGG's LP never is...

The whole track is a dark, deep meditation on life and (waste of) time, melting languid abandon and sadness in a coherent composition. One of the best melodies even written by the band, one of their most enjoyable songs, one of the sweetest and gloomiest  musical journeys a poor prog fan can experience.

Monday 26 May 2014

Beyond, Within (Glass Hammer, 2010)

The more Glass Hammer went on in their career, the more they were Yes-oriented in their music. The album "If" could easily be a Yes' outtakes collection, but please take my opinion in its positive sense. This "Beyond, Within", the opening song of the album, for example, is an excellent song, both structurally unpredictable and rhytmically dynamic. All is "Yes" here, sure, but never a bare replica of the band's most important model. Take Jon Davison's voice: it surely sounds a lot like Jon Anderson's (and he subsequently won the biggest prize to be the third lead singer of Yes), but it also has its own character, more stingy and jazzy than Jon's, maybe more dynamic and certainly less heavenly.

"If" was Glass Hammer's eleventh studio album.

The track is perfectly balanced in its fast and slow moments and the band plays in admirable harmony, always giving to each instrument its own and well deserved space. Last but not least, the sung and instrumental themes are very, very good ones, and this is one of the best reasons to buy a record, after all.

Sunday 25 May 2014

To Die in Avalon (Galadriel, 1988)

I've rarely listened to a more sophisticated prog song than this one. Full on shadows and light flashes, it's a classically inspired 10 minutes track taken from "Muttered Promises from An Ageless Pond", Galadriel's debut album. The piano and the vocals are the main characters of this musical romance, but the whole band is there to charm and disquiet the listener. Nothing is trivial in "To Die in Avalon" (maybe just the title is...), certainly not the slightly dissonant piano solo, nor the mystical sung sections.

The cover art is as liquid and disquieting as the music inside.

Definitely, this Spanish fivesome try to create something new. And this is not a minor virtue and surely it wasn't during the '80s. This music is like a spiritual wave, coming in and out from a distant sea. Galadriel succeed in being both innovative and pleasant, uncompromising and never boring. If you feel like exploring the inner side of yourself, you might try this...

Saturday 24 May 2014

La cour des miracles (Cafeïne, 1994)

Here you are a traditionally built up prog rock, with a bonus Medieval scent. It's a rather long track (more than eleven minutes), taken from the French band's debut album called "La Citadelle". It all starts with a plain sung theme and some electric guitar riffs, then the track develops in a more interesting and adventurous rhapsody, featuring clever tempo changes and long instrumental sections, where Patrick Jobard's extra-prog dreaming guitar and a profusion of keyboard effects provided by Christophe Houssin draw the crowded underground world of a wretches' refuge.

A Gustave Doré's drawing representing a court of the miracles.

It's the so called "court of miracles" the title suggests, probably under the influence of Victor Hugo's novel Notre-Dame de Paris. Philippe Ladousse's strong and pure voice finishes this charming picture, so full of feeling and invention that I surely rercommend to all the prog fans out there.

Friday 23 May 2014

Decision (The New Grove Project, 1997)

"Decision" comes from New Grove Project's first official release "Fool's Journey", a sci-fi concept album  featuring its leader Ingemar Hjertqvist and Swedesh prog stars as Roine Stolt of Flower Kings and Pär Lindh, the founder of Pär Lindh Project. Sort of a supergoup, The NGP come out from time to timre with a new, interesting album and this track proves how well they create traditional symphomnic rock and how much they enjoy playing it. There's a bit of everything here: pastoral moods, keyboard progressions, dreaming guitars, syncopated and creative rythms, intricate interplays, melodic sung sections... well, everything prog, I mean.

Before this album,The NGP released a demo album.

Despite this motley inspiration, the song has its own distinctive way to drive the listener into a colourful and beautiful musical world. More than this: the final result isn't too much "Flower Kings" or "Swedish neo-prog" influenced and I'd say there's rather a neo-prog and Italian prog vein in it. Well, listen to it and let me know what else it reminds you...

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Fading Senses (IQ, 1993)

I can't hide my immoderate fondness for IQ's album "Ever", and "Fading Senses" is one of the major reasons of my weakness. I really like the way this track starts, gentle and introspective, with Peter Nicholls' very peculiar voice drawing inner spirals deep in his soul. He knows how to translate in vocal inflections the melancholy contents of the lyrics. The guitar adds some more nostalgy and transparence.

"Ever" was IQ's sixth studio album.

The sadness rules the song, but "Fading Sanses", despite its moderate duration time (some 6 minutes), is divided into two sections (i After All and ii Fading Senses) and the second one brings in an important change both in mood and tempo, so that it gets heavier and faster. The Whole song is full of deep reflections and strong feelings and the sound is neat and even sharp, like flashes of light in the darkness. Definitely a fascinating track. IMHO, of course.

Monday 19 May 2014

Blame (Red Sand, 2004)

OK, OK, I know... this sounds like that famoud band, this is so easy, this isn't adventurous at all. I see your point, but I like "Blame" all the same. Let's say these notes are just to explain to myself why on Earth I like it so much. The problem is that Simon Caron really cares about his music, he loves it, feels it, refines it. Most of all, he puts all his deepest feelings inside it. "Blame", for example, isn't just a collection of moods and atmospheres (you'll find some very good ones here), it's a soul honestly, directly displaying its sorrows and delights.

This album includes three long tracks plus a "cameo" one.

You don't need any special devices to express your inner feelings and if you master your favourite genre's basic, well, that will be enough, IMHO. "Blame", taken from Red Sand's debut album is exactly like that: 12 minutes of good old neo-prog filled with genuine emotions and nursed like a baby by a loving mother (or father, if you better like). I think these are the main reasons why you'll find this song - and some more by Red Sand -  in my blog.

Saturday 17 May 2014

Traummaschine (Ash Ra Tempel, 1971)

Krautrock, anyone? Ash Ra Tempel are one of the seminal bands in the eclectic and innovative German scene of the early '70s and this long, arcane suite, filling the B side of their debut album, always charms my ears and my soul. Strange, as I really like melodies and clever composers, how I like a track in which no structured music is involved, no pentagram is needed. The mysterious, extra slow intro, ruled by cosmic keyboard effects is like a dark portal connecting the listener to another musical world. You'll never be able to find the very moment the music begins, as the sounds come in so slowly you'll always notice it too late.

An iconic cover for a space rock symbol.

The percussions enrich the middle section, thanks to Klaus Schulze of Tangerine Dream's fame. His sharp and echoed beats give a special deepness to the track and create an open space in which Manuel Göttsching's electric and acid guitar slowly finds it way. The third member of the band, Hartmut Enke, adds an evanescent bass guitar now and then, like the touch of a ghost. I daresay - re-adapting a pair of Mallarmé's and Verlaine's quotes - there is no music here, but the empty space it creates when leaving the stage. Sure, there's the pre-final guitar section that could suggest some musical arabesque, but here again you'll only find the shadowy, vaporous impression of a riff, the dreamed and forgotten shade of a melody. Then the sound fades away as slowly as it came in. Weird. Fascinating.

Friday 16 May 2014

Hríslan og straumurinn (Eik, 1977)

Most of prog fans out there think that Icelandic prog was born with Sigur Rós a few years ago.To them, this band and this suite will come as a surprise, but Eik were there, among the snowy volcans and the hot geysers of their island since 1971. This suite is a good specimen of their eclectic symphonic rock. Hríslan og straumurinn (meaning "The Twig And The Stream") is the title track of their second and last album, released in 1977. After a long and visionary intro, including classic symphonic rock, jazzy twists and a beautiful flute, comes a melodic choral sung section, somehow not too far from Gentle Giant's model, but lighter in mood and arrangement.

Eik only released two albums, in 1976 and this one in 1977.

After these dreamy vocals, the song completely changes and here you are an up tempo interval, featuring a feast of keyboard progressions and effects. From here to the end of the track - the total running time of the song is more than 14 minutes - you'll find sung sections andf musical interludes in a beautiful succession and showing a wide range of moods. Definitely, following the song title, the listener of this track is like a twig driven by a quick stream... I also imagine this song like a spiritual trip into a hidden world, an uncompromising but pleasant experiment with the full bodied taste of the '70s.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Mad Man Moon (Genesis, 1976)

The quintessential Tony Bank's song, I daresay. And a beautiful, deep meditation on human condition, too. Taken from "A Trick of The Tail" album, this piano driven song features a series of winning sung themes and instrumental variations (oh... that wonderful middle section!) and also some surprising tempo changes, something I'll be forever fond of. The lunar, nocturnal mood of the down tempo sections perfectly matches with the quick gusts ponctuating the song and pointing up its emotional peaks. Classical, yes, but also innovative and sometimes disquieting, "Mad Man Moon" always leaves a bittersweet trace in my soul.

 "I would welcome a horse's kick to send me back
If I could find a horse not made of sand."

The lyrics add something weird to the big picture, including some very well found images representing the relativity of human desire. Do you remember these lines, for example?

Within the valley of shadowless death
They pray for thunderclouds and rain,
But to the multitude who stand in the rain
Heaven is where the sun shines.

Defintely a song I love. And I suppose I'm not the only one.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Travel of Dream (Clepsydra, 2002)

This three parts little suite, taken from the album "Alone", is one of the best songs of Clepsydra, a Swiss band whose music is a clever and personal interpretation of the '80s and '90s so called neo-prog. Their sound is rich and dynamic, as this "Travel of Dreams" proves it very well. Keyboards, guitars and drums are probably the best features here, but the whole piece is worth a keen listening. One of this song's strongest points, IMHO, is the perfect mix of sung themes and instrumental passages.

"Alone" comes with three alternate cover arts. Besides this "fish"
version, you'll find the "octopus" and the "chicken" ones.

You'll find melody everywhere, and dreaming moods, too. This doesn't mean the track's a sweetish one: Clepsydra never goes pomp or bombastic, their music has a neat and discreet nature, and if it's relaxing, it isn't boring. A special mention goes to Aluisio Maggini's voice, both strong and sensitive, and to Marco Cerulli's guitars as his solos probably represent the most recognizable trade mark of Clepsydra. Not made for musical Revolution, but surely made for musical Meditation.

Monday 12 May 2014

Impressioni di Settembre (Premiata Forneria Marconi, 1971)

This was the first PFM's single, released in 1971, some months before their first album with "La Carrozza di Hans" on the B side. Please note that the album version of this song is a re-recorded and longer version, and also the most known one on  the Italian market. "The World Became The World" is the English version of "Impressioni di Settembre" (meaning "September Impressions") and was released as the title track of their 1974 album conceived for the International market and featuring Pete Sinfield's lyrics.

This single represents PFM's first release.

That said, the song is a little prog pearl, sweet and sensitive, but also innovative in its structure, including two different themes and some instrumental passages, arranged in a balanced way with some differences depending on the version you're listening to. Both the Italian and the English lyrics are based on the influence of season changes on human soul and emphasize the wet side of autumn (it's dew in Italian lyrics and rain in Sinfield's ones). Perhaps that's why the music itself has a liquid nature and the song flows like a fresh and sparkling stream out of the prog forest.

Sunday 11 May 2014

Polluted Pool 污水塘 (Wang Wen 惘闻, 2008)

I sometimes add to my blog songs pertaining to the so called post rock scene, especially when I smell some prog scent in it. With this song, taken from their fourth studio album, Wang Wen - a yourng chinese fivesome - surely pay a tribute to such bands as Sigur Rós, but also to prog masters, especially to King Crimson. The track is set up very well, with a slow double guitar intro by Xie Yugang and Geng Xin, soon joined by the rithm section and the keyboards.

Wang Wen released six studio albums up to 2012.

Slow as it is, this 6:27 minutes instrumental piece is never boring, because the musicians know how to change the tempos and the moods. So, the slowest section (from minute 2:18 to 4:22), cleverly prepare the listener to the rock pre-finale, including an original chinese-sounding electric guitar and fading into a dreaming closing section. Very well done, my Eastern friends. 

Saturday 10 May 2014

From The Beginning (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1972)

Yes, I'm one of those weird guys that love better ELP's ballads than their longest epics. "From The Beginning", for example, taken from the "Trilogy" album, is what I call a perfect song. Greg Palmer provides his voice, an acoustic guitar and an electric slide solo, but please don't forget Keith Emerson's final embroidery, with a scent of outer space.

"Trilogy" is probably my favourite ELP's album ever.

The lyrics are beautiful, making up a love song, but a never trivial or too sentimental one. I specially love the chorus:

You see, it's all clear
You were meant to be here from the beginning.

Sort of a matter-of-fact declaration of love, a statement that's worth a two page love letter. And if ever anyone should say this is a simple ballad, well, let him take a look at the chord progression of the chorus: Dm7 / Dm6 / C#m6 / G / Am9 / Em7-11. Usual, isn't it?

Friday 9 May 2014

Humpty Dumpty (Motoi Sakuraba 桜庭 統, 1990)

This is the opening track fromn the debut album Gikyokuonsou (戯曲音創) by Motoi Sakuraba (or Sakuraba Motoi 桜庭 統  in Japanese) and it was a pretty good surprise to me when Musea released this work for the Western market. It's an instrumental track where classical, jazz and experimental influences merge in a coherent, dense sound driven by piano with assorted keyboards and perfectly supported by a creative rythm section provided by Ken Ishita (bass guitar) and Takeo Shimoda (drums).

Motoi Sakuraba released this one year after his last Deja-Vu's album.

Motoi Sakuraba, who also founded the band Deja-vu and composed many anime and video game soundtracks, couldn't have started better his prog solo career: this music is challenging and enthralling, strange and familiar in the same time. It's such a modern musical blend that I couldn't believe it was originally released in 1990: so many bands do this kind of music in the 2010s and are considered among the most updated and innovative proggers... listen to this, my friends, and I'm sure you'll be impressed by Mr. Motoi Sakuraba.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

10.000 anos depois entre Venus e Marte (José Cid, 1978)

"10.000 anos depois entre Venus e Marte" is the best of the few prog albums by this prolific Portuguese artist, composer, singer and (especially here) keyboardist. The title track of this SF concept fully represents the core ideas of the whole work. A Mellotron plays an up tempo progression, then other instruments join it and the track gets more and more epic, sort of a space opera. The sung section (in Portuguese) offers a relaxing bridge, soon replaced by another José Cid's show.

José Cid explored the prog rock planet between 1977 and 1978.
All the vitues and the vices of such keyboard-driven projects are there, but the clever succession of progressions and largos, some unpredictable changes and - most of all - the solid melody on which this spacey castle was build up surely rivet the listener's attention. Each sound has its own colour, each passage is like an opened curtain leading on the prog dimension. So '70s, so vintage, still... so good.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

We Breathe Together (Dead Heroes Club, 2013)

Dead Heroes Club actually are one of the most interesting prog bands out there. They come from Ireland, not an usual place for prgo, and their prog is a somehow unusual one, so full of energy and so poor in useless tinsels. Liam Campbell's voice is strong and slightly black, while all the other members of the fivesome are brilliant in their effective, almost essential sound. This song comes from their third studio album, "Everything Is Connected".

I think Dead Heroes Club are improving their music:
each new album adds a little more to the previous one.

The progressive core is there, of course, made of tempo and mood changes, a rich choice of effects and instruments, but there is never too much or too tidy in this track (and in all DHC's discography). You'll appreciate the neat rythm section, and also some very fast arpeggios on the electric guitar, something not too far from U2's lesson. And when the piano comes in you'll see how fresh and new this song is and how original a prog band can be if they're proud enough.

Monday 5 May 2014

Matte Kudasai (King Crimson, 1981)

"Discipline" is essentialy made of up tempo songs, some of which featuring harsh sounds, Talking Heads inspiration and edgy guitars. It's also a prog album without keyboards (there are a few over the decades), but then Robert Fripp's guitars can virtually be any instrument you're waiting for. In this context, "Matte Kudasai", credited to the whole band, is a world of its own.

"Discipline" was the first album of the '80s incarnation of KC.

Slow and suspended, this track almost depicts the waiting atmosphere suggested by its title (Matte Kudasai is "Please Wait" in Japanese) and was also released as a single b/w "Elephant Talk", but in a slightly different version, more recently included in the 40th anniversary remix edition of "Discipline". The seagull effect, twice heard during the song, comes from a Belew's guitar effect and his vocals are simply perfect, so outspread and - in the same time - always under control. The slide guitar leads a song that seems like waves flowing through the ocean or better like inner waves echoing into a human soul. Definitely, slow doesn't necessarily mean relaxing.

Sunday 4 May 2014

The Butterfly Plague pt.1 (A Journey) (Wilton Said..., 2004)

Wilton and his band are from Canada and I listened to their records some years ago. He's a very eclectic guy, Wilton, as he likes to explore all the musical worlds he comes across and to mix them down in his own tracks. So the subtitle of this song says it all: it's a journey through different lands, a joyous trip featuring so many landscapes and so many changes... nonetheless, this instrumental piece has its own style and keeps on going straight ahead like a musical locomotive from station to station and from inspiration to inspiration.

This guy from Toronto actually made some good music.

Wilton keyboards are very well supported by the other members of the band (especially by Chris Reid's guitars) and some of the mood changes are simply perfect. If ever you feel like listening to something out of the schemes and built on a solid proggy ground, well, try this one, if you please, and your ears will enjoy some 7 minutes of pleasure. It isn't so easy, these days...

Saturday 3 May 2014

Atlantide (The Trip, 1972)

The Trip were one of the most interesting Italian prog bands back in the Golden era of our favourite genre. And they re-united in 2010, so they still tour worldwide. Their 1972 album "Atlantide" was, of course, about the mythical Continent between Europe and America and featured a well blended mix of classical music, jazzy moods and melodic roots played by a "powerful trio" line up. This title track - the opening one, too - is an instrumental piece, including a dramatic theme and some beautiful variations.

"Atlantide" featured an original gatefold cover. Here it is folded...

...and unfolded.

The first part of the song is rather classically inspired, with a leading piano and an ELP-influenced form. The second part develops the theme in an arcane, choral, very '70s style, a deep and even disquieting section. So, this isn't a mannerist composition, a mere display of technical skills: it's an engaging, rather dark track, affecting the listener's soul in a quite peculiar way.

Friday 2 May 2014

La Cathédrale de Strasbourg (Focus, 1974)

"Hamburger Concerto" by Dutch band Focus is a virtually perfect album, IMHO, and it includes some real prog pearls, so please browse my blog and you'll find some of them. It also features this "La Cathédrale de Strasbourg", written by keyboardist Thijs Van Leer, one of the strangest, most original and most charming tracks I've ever listened to. This was intended to describe the gothic monument dominating Strasbourg, in France. You won't find for it a definite model among the internationally acclaimed bands of the '70s: this is the pure essence of creative music.

The cathedral and its single belltower dominating Strasbourg.

The song starts with its main theme, a beautiful melody, played on the piano and on a pipe organ (there's a cathedral in the title, after all...), then a choir breaks the previous almost religious mood, singing in French La Cathédrale de Strasbourg, ding dong, ding dong, la nostalgie se réveille, meaning "Strasbourg cathedral, ding dong, ding dong, nostalgy wakes up". Another change and here you are a soft, liquid, jazzy improvisation section, mostly based on guitars. And, of course, in the end the main theme comes back with the choir replacing the pipe organ. So many changes, still the track is perfectly coherent and you reach its finale wondering what this was exactly and definitely loving it.

Thursday 1 May 2014

Set The Controls for The Heart of The Sun (Pink Floyd, 1968)

More than a song, this is an inner listening experience. "Set The Controls for The Heart of The Sun" comes from Pink Floyd's second album, "A Saucerful of Secrets", and it was written by Roger Waters. The original 5:28 minutes track was usually expanded in live shows, and maybe the most known of those reworked versions is to be found in "Live at Pompeii" film and this one exceeds 10 minutes of length. It's a mysterious, exotic, hypnotic trip into another world and, IMHO, it features some of the most fascinating drummings by Nick Mason. I won't bother you with labels such as space-rock, psychedelia or proto-prog... choose yourself, for what it's worth. 

I'm sure you all remember this frame.
I couldn't forget it even if I wanted, as I live in front of Pompeii amphitheatre.

The lyrics aren't exactly simple, and they allegedly include some lines translated form Chinese poems. I don't think words are employed here in their usual meanings, it's better to take them for their sound and their evocative strength, strictly linked to the music. Anyway, the suggestion coming from this track is as powerful today as it was in the early '70s, when the band usually included it in their live sets. A last word about that Gilmour's interview in 2006, in which he said there were in this song both his and Barrett's guitars. Well, if it's true, this adds an historical value to "Set The Controls", but its magic is something you couldn't improve further.