Sunday 29 June 2014

Summer in Town (Horizont / Горизонт, 1985)

Be prepared to meet one of the strangest and most fascinating suites in the strange and fascinating world of underground prog. This Russian band was born in the late '70s, but they released their two albums during the '80s, leaded by composer and keyboardist Sergey Komilov. This is the title track of the fiorst one, divided into three movements: March, Minuet and Toccata. As those sub-titles may suggest, the classical influence is very strong on Horizont's music, but it's not the only one.

Unfortunately, Horizont disbanded in the late '80s.

These musicians also like to experiment, to amaze their listeners, including unpredictable solutions in their compositions and many avant-garde sounds. You'll find here - I mean it - both Genesis and Magma, both symphonic rock and krautrock. The final result may be puzzling, but it isn't unpleasant, after all, as Horizont don't like elitarian music and always try to communicate emotions. Well, you wouldn't have find this song here, had they acted otherwise.

Saturday 28 June 2014

400 prog songs in this little blog...

Yes, previous post introduced prog song #400. As usual, thank you for your friendship, patience and faith in prog. When I read how many of you and from how many different countries grace this place, I'm confused and grateful.

That's why I can't stop here and I'm ready toi go on...

Silk Road Theme (Kitarō 喜多郎, 1980)

This is not exactly prog rock, I know that, but there are meny reasons to put it here nonetheless. Firstly, this was a highly inspirational track for many prog bands and artists over there. Secondly, the Japanese Kitarō, soon after the huge success of the first O.S.T. album of the documentary series The Silk Road: The Rise And Fall Of Civilizations featuring this main theme, promoted a third way solution between new age music and progressive rock. He did it alone, with symphonic orchestras and also with rock musicians like Jon Anderson of Yes or MIckey Hart of Grateful Dead.

This was the first of two "Silk Road" O.S.T. albums.

Finally, this is one of the greatest "minimoog songs" I've ever listened to, featuring a sweet, Eastern melody, a brilliant arrangement and a dreamy mood not so far from prog bands such as Camel. In short, each time I come across this song, I reverently stop and I take a deep breath of pure spirit. That's why I'm proud to include Kitarō among the bunch of musicians gracing my little blog.

Thursday 26 June 2014

Tarkus (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1971)

Considered as the quintessence of prog, in both positive and negative senses, the suite "Tarkus", filling the A side of the second ELP's album, is one of those tracks a prog fan must face sooner or later. I did it sooner and I was deceived, then I came back later and I loved it. Propbably you need to be in the right mood to accept the tricky arrangements, the virtuosities and the improbable lyrics about the armadillo-tank Tarkus: his Birth from a volcano, his battles against three monsters and the final mutation in an Aquatarkus. But if you dare to play this track's intro, you'll likely listen to it until its last note.

This is Tarkus as imagined by the painter William Neal. 

And you'll be right: this suite is a magic well full of ideas, musical inventions and, most of all, free rock music. I mean it: ELP and this track represent the freedom and the curiosity prog rock was born for. Take Greg Lake's unexpected acid guitar, or Keith Emerson's organ progressions and strange keyboard effects, or the broken march tempos Carl Palmer conjures up. Musical materials enough for a dozen albums, I daresay. And not even a second of rest. Be brave and face such a musical adventure!

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Historia d'una gota d'aigua (Gotic, 1978)

This track, taken from the album "Escenes" ("Scenes") is a Spanish (Catalan, to be more precise) prog gem, one of the sweetest ones, IMHO. It's a relaxing, descriptive still varied 10 minutes instrumental track, kind of a trip in a natural, clean, aerial world. The titles says it all: it's the story of a waterdrop, narrated by Jep Nuix and his flute supported by a clever percussion work, gentle keyboards and some acoustic guitars. The musical themes are simple and well found, so that you actually feel your body flucuate between white and pink clouds.

The whole "Escenes" album is Worth your attention.

The rythm gradually increases as the track goes on and our little drop grows up and joins the rain pouring down. Really, this Camel-esque track may be too naive for an intellectual prog listener, but as I'm a very simple man, I like it and I listen to it when I need to calm down. It perfectly works, believe me.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Another Day Like Superman (Anyone's Daughter, 1980)

I'm simply fascinated by this track, released by Anyone's Daughter in their second studio album. This German band was on the stage since 1972, but their discography only began in 1979 with "Adonis", a good Genesis-inspired album. But their self titled 1980 LP is my favourite album of theirs. This song begins in a pastoral way, just like a slow, acoustic ballad, then the rythm section comes in and a beautiful electric guitar solo completely changes the tempo and the mood: Deep Purple meet Genesis, I'd say.

I like this cover... somewhere between Yes and Disney.

Uwe Karpa plays his instrument as fast as a devil and keyboardist Mattias Ulmer also has some moments of glory before the sung section comes back to introduce a dreaming closing section. Maybe they were too late to become a world sensation, but they surely were coherent and brave and - most of all - they made a present of this song to my prog ears. Try it, it won't disappoint you, mark my words.

Sunday 22 June 2014

This Past Presence (Wobbler, 2011)

The Wobbler are one of the most known bands of the Scandinavian vintage prog movement. Not only they play the same instruments their '70s models used to play, but also they write and perform as it was usual in the Golden Era. Are they to blame? It depends, IMHO, on the use they make of the sound they love. That's why I put this particular track in my blog: even its title suggests a link between the past and the present. The Wobbler transform their models in a musical palette they make use of with a new, free, fresh creativity.

"Rites at Dawn" was the third Wobbler's studio album.

So, "This Past Presence" re-uses all the main features of our Golden Era heroes, but in an original and recognizable frame, a melancholy and pastoral one, showing all the colours of the passing seasons and a strong union with natural elements. I see kind of a musical wicca here, a charm made of piano passages and choral arrangements, acoustic guitars, electric progressions and flowing mellotrons. In a word, magic. And we all know you need ancient tools to perform the best magic of all.

Saturday 21 June 2014

Valley (Jethro Tull, 1995)

As this song comes from "Roots to Branches", it belongs to the 1990s, but its sound and its structure reminds me of the folk age of Jetrho Tull, around late '70s and I like it as it was actually part of that magnificent bunch of songs. Really, all is good here: the arcane intro, the bluesy measures, the rock riffs, the instrumental passages, the coarse vocals, some acoustic guitars here and there, and, of course, Ian Anderson's flute.

Some consider this as thelast good JT's album. Don't know...

Sure, some discreet electronic fragments and the neat, digital production suggest another moment in the band's life, but the inspiration and the soul are the best ones a fan could ask for. I remember I saw the band live in their "Roots to Branches" tour in Naples, Italy, and I was rather disappointed by Ian's voice (but then he had been seriously ill, as you may remember), but when he started playing his flute... well... thank you my Pied Piper!

Thursday 19 June 2014

Twilight Alehouse (Genesis, 1973)

This non-album track was included in Genesis live playlists since the band's very early shows, but it was only recorded and released in 1973, as the single "I Know What I Like" b-side in 1974, and, before this, as a flexi-disc included in a musical magazine package in 1973. I love its misty and dark mood, and also its pastoral touch. The lyrics are about a man loosing everything and getting alcoholic, something I saw too many times in my life. And Peter Gabriel knows how to communicate these pessimistic contents to the listener.

This is the cover of the first offìicial release of the song.

The suspended instrumental passage includes a flute performance by Peter and also a full bodied organ, something reminding me all the vintage proto-prog stuff. I do think this charming song could have been included in an official studio album long before 1973, but I'm happy they released it at last: this is one of the most spectacular outtakes of all times, IMHO.

Just a drink to take my sorrow,
Just a drink and you can blast Tomorrow,
Just adrink to make me feel like a man again.
Now I'm down.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Sanktuarium (Quidam, 1996)

This is the opening track of Quidam's self titled, first and most appreciated album. It fully represents this Polish band's style, made of elecric guitar solos à la camel, charming female voicals - that's Emila Derkowska's pure and mysterious voice - and atmospheric breaks. Actually, Quidam inspired many other prog bands, not only in their own Country, with their brilliant mix of prog rock and celtic folk and their unique soul. Sanktuarium has got a winning melody and a lot of dreaming guitars, both lying on a keyboards smooth carpet and a neat rythm section.

This is the 1996 album cover art, but I recommend the 2006
10th Anniversay 2 CD edition.

All the electronic devices are employed with discretion, just to enrich the shadowy mood of the track, whose lyrics in Polish describe the search of an inner sanctuary hidden behind a rainy, windy dusk, in a moment of painful solitude. This arcane union of Nature and human feelings is what I perceive in every second of "Sanktuarium". Morn, yes, but beautiful.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

The Distance to The Sun (Spock's Beard, 1999)

I confess "Day for Night" isn't my favourite album by Spock's Beard, not by far. But this ballad is one of their songs I constantly listen to and I still enjoy after so many years and so many listenings. This American band knows very, very well how to cook a plain song in a tasty prog sauce. A double vocal verse, an open wide chorus, a charming acoustic arrangement with light piano and guitar interplays, some original but direct lyrics and, last but not least, a dreaming finale.

"Day for Night" was the band's fourth studio album.

This recipe may seem very easy, but then why such enthralling ballads are so rare? Well, the reason is there aren't many composers like Neal Morse: he's got the gift of perfect tunes, fully enjoyable and still never trivial. That's why you can listen to "The Distance to The Sun" many times and never be bored by the song: a beautiful, evocative melody will always be fresh and brand new. A track like this one can even be part of your lifetime soundtrack, a discreet, inspirational, persistent part of it.

Monday 16 June 2014

Kaiten (Ningen Gyorai) (Happy Family, 1995)

What if King Crimson were born in Japan? And if they had met Magma, too? Well, listen to this instrumental track if you're looking for an answer. And be prepared to something both old and new, heavy and sensitive, dark and bright. It is difficult indeed to describe such a changing music, including so many interesting ideas and moods. Sure, the track attack reminds me of Robert Fripp's solutions, but then this Japanese band goes further and further, inventing tricky interplays and almost jazzy passages.

Happy Family only released two albums in 1995 and 1997.
Still, their music isn't a puzzling experiment: this is actually good, enjoyable rock music, as creative as prog should be. Not a mellow song, this 8:42 minutes "Kaiten (Ningen Gyorai)" comes from Happy Family's self titled first album and fills the space around me with flashes and colours, spinning planets and secret feelings. Chapeau!

Sunday 15 June 2014

Don't Tell Me (Believe, 2006)

Another spin off band set up by a Collage member, guitarist Mirek Gil, another very good one. Believe's music is a well played and well arranged neo-prog (you know I don't like this label, but it's useful anyway), with a clever succession of up tempo walls of sound and relaxing breaks. This song, taken from the album "Hope to See Another Day", is a good example of these eclectic and melodic compositions, featuring a catchy melody, sung by Tomek Rozck on a stentorean and neat tone.

"Hope to See Another Day" was Believe's debut album.
Two instrumental passages enrich the song, the first one including a beautiful Mirek Gil's electric guitar solo and the second one graced by Satomi's piercing violin. Like many other prog tracks of the same kind, you can enjoy this one as a plain song, but you can also go down the surface and find the underlying, discreet complexity of its structure.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Ode à Émile (Ange, 1975)

This short song, taken from the album "Émile Jacotey", starts with the words of the main character of the Whole concept, the elder Émile Jacotey, narrating his life in a village, his hard farrier job and his present retirement. This old man represents a natural, ancestral way of life, the one people had been living for centuries in all European Countries and especially in rural France. And this man is also a mine of stories, legends and traditions, filling the Ange's album.

This track was also released as a promo single, b/w "Sur la trace des fées".

That's why he deserves this Ode, so heartily sung by Christian Décamps over an acoustic background, enriched by his brother Francis' keyboards and also graced by an electric guitar solo by Jean-Michel Brézovar. It's a pleasant, moving track and also a deep meditation on human destinies, focusing on the natural rise and decay of life and on the legacy each individual can pass on the following generations. A pearl, IMHO.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Appena un po' (Premiata Forneria Marconi, 1972)

Years ago, someone asked me the title of the track that, in my opinion, would perfectly represent Italian prog at his best. I couldn't reply then, but in time I found a good aswer: PFM's "Appena un po'" ("Just a little") taken from the album "Per un amico" ("For A Friend"). Why is this? Well, because you'll find here a catalogue of all the things Italian prog. Acoustic passages, Medieval or Renaissance touches, Mediterranean dances, a good deal of Mellotron, and then, of course, a lot of flutes and choral arrangements.

"Per un amico" was the second PFM's album.

Sure, if I put it here, it isn't just for this anthology side: this track features a gorgeous melody and so many good musical changes and moods. Acrtually, it's one of my favourite Premiata's songs and I do hope you'll enjoy it too. Oh, I forgot to say that the band also released an English version of "Appena un po'", titled "River of Life" - the opening track of "Photos of Ghosts" - featuring Pete Sinfield's lyrics. A good alternate listening...

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Garden Party (Marillion, 1983)

"Garden Party", subtitled "The Great Cucumber Massacre" is one of the most important songs by Marillion in the definition process of their own style in the early '80s. It is also one of their first singles to enter the charts, kind of a passport to fame. It's a strange song, featuring an up tempo chorus and a down tempo verse, sung by Fish in two very different tones: mellifluous and aggressive. The lyrics attack in a very direct way some British upper class habits and the funny official video of the song actually depicts an irreverent raid on the spot of a fashionable party.

While the 12" single featured the album version of the song,
the 7" version was heavily edited (4:35 minutes instead of 7:15)

This song greatly contributed to launch the prog revival of the '80s, showing how much this kind of rock could be sharp and energetic, something the punk generation seemed to ignore till then. And in fact, the album version of "Garden Party" also contained the four letter word f***ing, decorously replaced by miming in the single edit, so that all the radios could accept it. The sign of the times, one would say.

Sunday 8 June 2014

Magnum Opus (Kansas, 1976)

Likely the proggest song by Kansas, "Magnum Opus", taken from the album "Leftoverture", surely is one of their finest and more challenging compositions. The way all the instruments come in and each one of them seems to lead the track, the perfect vocals by Steve Walsh... here you are more than enough reasons to love"Magnum Opus".

"Leftoverture" is probably my favourite album by Kansas.
But there's another one, maybe the most important one: those musicians achieve here a lushing, charming fusion of European prog rock - including all its sub-genres, I daresay - and their own American roots: this is the Kansas' way, the Kansas' gate to the progressive world. The rythm is enthralling, the main theme is bombastic, the mood is as spiritual as such an epic can be... what else? Just this: the varied, multi-coloured, unpredictable architecture "Magnum Opus" has got. Just try and see...

Saturday 7 June 2014

Merlin (Kayak, 1981)

Merlin the Magician and the whole Arthurian saga were one of the most common literary sources for progressive rock lyrics. Kayak produced their own "Merlin" track in 1981 and it proved to be one of their most powerful ones. After a melodic, sweet section, the song - written by Ton Scherpenzeel - gets fully prog rock and is graced by devilish keys and one of the best vocal performances by Edward  Reekers. He also rules the subsequent tempo and mood changes.

"Merlin" was the eight studio album by Kayak.

The electric guitar comes is around minute 4 and adds a heavier edge to the song, introducing the final wall of sound in which all the instruments - leaded by a very Wakeman-like keyboard - do their best to please my prog ears. Useful to know, this track is but the first in a collection of five songs filling the A side of the original LP - also titled "Merlin" - all concerning the famous magician's story. And they all deserve your attention, IMHO. Last info: the band re-worked this material and released a longer suite on the same subject in 2003, "Merlin - Bard of The Unseen". This version's interesting too.

Friday 6 June 2014

Le rêve rose (Elixir, 1986)

The French tradition of a theatrical and rythmically sustained prog rock was still alive during the '80s, as this track, taken from Elixir's first album "Sabbat" proves very well. Nothing too complicated or intellectual here, just a fine song featuring a pleasant sung theme and some instrumental bridges, but all very well done. I'm really grateful to all the bands that filled somehow the hiatus of the '80s with their progressive rock dreams.

A very pleasant way to keep on progging...

They didn't fear to swim againt the mainstream and so a simple song like this one looks important to me: its freshness, its slightly agressive sound, its light blend of pop, art rock and true prog seems naive today, but it was precious like gold in its era. That's why I pay my respect to such songs as this one, "The Pink Dream", in English, as they succeeded in keeping our dream alive. That said, I also appreciate the magic intro of this song, the subsequent rythm solutions and the guitar work. It's like sweet poison in my veins.

Thursday 5 June 2014

Winter "The Key" (The Enid, 1985)

The Enid realesed a collection of songs about the four seasons (not so original, but always a good idea) in three different moments and supports: first, as a double 45 rpm album, then as a proper vynil album and finally as a CD including a bonus track. "Winter" is the openingtrack and maybe the most moving one. As all The Enid's compositions, it's an uncompromising symphonic compisition, set up following the classical concerto movements and selecting the more orchesta-like sound effects Robert John Godfrey's keyboards could provide.

The art gracing the first CD version of "The Spell".

You'll find here a fanfare opening, then a more melodic, lento music, where the excellent main theme of the song rises like a waterspring. That could be perfect for a romantic ballet and the typical Enid's features go extreme, so decidely you'll like it (if you like their music) or you'll hate it (if you don't). Not so strange The Enid are the favourite target of anti-prog arrows and the most secret love of so many proggers. Like me.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Nostos (Ubi Maior, 2005)

Strongly influenced by the Ancient world, Ubi Maior not only choose a Latin name for themselves, but they also title their debut album and this 23 minutes suite "Nostos", "νόστος" in Greek alphabet. The word means "homecoming" and is especially employed by Homer to describe the long and difficult return of the Trojan War heroes to their Countries. So this track, divided into six parts, is a well written allegory of the long road waiting each and every man over the challenging and infinite sea of life. To accomplish their task, Ubi Maior employ all the usual moods, instruments and styles of progressive rock and particularly those of the so called Italian prog.

Davide Pagin created the beautiful artworks for "Nostos".

This doesn't mean "Nostos" should be considered as a mere derivative music: as for the Homeric saga, these musicias succeed in reworking and reviving their favourite genre, that sounds fresh and new to thelistener. I like, for example, how well they mix here sung themes and instrumental passages and the way the balance down tempo and up tempo sections. Another strong point, as always in good Italian bands, is the beautiful contrast between acoustic and electric instruments. Try this and follow the hero coming back home. And prog actually is home for me.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

Floor 67 (White Willow, 2011)

This isn't the only song by White Willow you'll find in my blog and this one's from the Norvegian band's  sixth studio album "Terminal Twilight", a dark coffer full of pleasant surprises. "Floor 67", for example, starts as a slow, nostalgic track based on dreaming keys and Sylvia Erichsen's pure vocals. Then the rythm slightly rises up and a classic era keyboard progression reminds us how good prog rock can be. We also come across nordic folk, psychedelic sections and even experimental dissonant bridges.

White Willow's discography includes seven studio albums up to 2013.

These musicians are really good in changing and melting the moods, the tempos, the models, so that the final result is fully original and modern. The menu includes acoustic and electric instruments, flutes, distorted guitars, pulsing chords and even a stormy instrumental pre-final section reminding me of King Crimson. The finale itself is committed to a philtered Sylvia's voice à la Laurie Anderson, an arcane way to end up the song.There's a bit of everything here, and even so the track is coherent and fascinating. That's why it's here in my blog.

Monday 2 June 2014

The Maiden (Aisles, 2009)

Proggers are rising in Chile, definitely. Aisles is a good specimen of such a rich and inviting spring, and this track, taken from their first album "In Sudden Walks", is worth our attention. There are three main influences I perceive: the golden era prog (the Masters, of course), the '80s/'90s neo-proggers, including the most recent Marillion's evolution, and -last but not least - a hint of Italian prog, especially PFM, I daresay.The result is a very pleasant and changing song, with different moods in it and a keen choice of sounds.

Aisles' debut album was released in 2004. This one in 2009.

The vocals are very good, discreet and sensitive, with a scent - just a scent, I swear it - of brit pop I never dislike. There is also a well brewed mix of electric and acoustic guitars, something giving an original taste to the band's sound. The keys (the band line up two keyboard players) and the rythm section are very good too, and those guys never forget how important the tempo changes are  in progressive rock. Listen to this, my friends, 'cause they're growing very fast, those Aisles boys, and I'm sure we will hear of them more and more. 

Sunday 1 June 2014

The Revealing Science of God (Dance of The Dawn) (Yes, 1973)

All the worst has been said about Yes' "Tales from Topographic Oceans" double album. Nonetheless, I still love this suite, the first one out of four in the set. Of course, after such masterpieces as "Close to The Edge" or "Fragile", the band couldn't possibly do better music, but here they were once again at their best, full of ideas, good melodies, varied arrangements and assorted visions. Jon Anderson's lyrics are weirdest than usual, but his voice is perfect, and so is the wall of sound provided by the rest of the band. The choral passages are fascinating, IMHO, and when they sing "What happened to wonders we once knew so well" I can actually see the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and all the jewels of our planet before my very eyes.

...And thanks to Roger Dean, as usual.

And Howe's guitar soon translates all this in a dynamic musical progression, while Squire's bass never takes a rest. And when you begin to wonder where Rick Wakeman is, here come his piano and  keys to join the feast. The rare down tempo movements are also very good, with a nacturnal acoustic guitar singing to the rising moon. Yes, I'll definitely ignore the fashionable reviewers' pieces of advice and I'll listen to this song once more. A deadly sin?