Friday 31 October 2014

Nine Feet Underground (Caravan, 1971)

If I had to single out one track as the most representative one of the so called Canterbury Sound, I'd likely choose this one, taken from the masterpiece album "In The Land of Grey And Pink". Mind you, this isn't just because it is a long eight-part suitre (and anyone knows I like suites), no, it's the lush, eclectic, warming and brilliant architecture of this song that always captures my attention. Take those gentle and slightly jazz keyboards, for example. They seem to come from a distance, maybe from nine feet underground, and still they are so neat and strong that each time I listen to them, I'd ask for more.

Caravan during the early '70s. Canterbury rules.

The rare sung sections are somewhat linked to the beat-blues era and the choral harmonies always come in to add a '70s smell to these vocal flowers. And the guitars are rich ,nd flushing. Now a special mention for the tempo changes. These ones are particularly dynamic during the central sections, including some supernatural effects - the scary "Make it 76" - and an assortment of keyboard and guitar solos. I don't need to recommend such a famous track, of course, perhaps I can suggest one more listening... just in case.

Thursday 30 October 2014

The Tain (The Decemberists, 2004)

One of the most hard to label bands, for this very reason the Decemberists are the proggest band one can imagine. Not only their music comes from unexpected fusions and explorations, but they also like to revive past glorious sounds by updating them with bravery and good taste. "The Tain", for example, is a suite divided into five parts featuring King Crimson's echoes and Gentle Giant's hints, along with a folk soul and a pop freshness.

"The Tain" was recorded in 2003 and released as an EP in 2004.

The melodies are plain and well found, while the instrumental bridges are full of original ideas, clever reprises and unpredictable changes. As always with them, we also find some brilliant lyrics (Colin Meloy is also an excellent novelist) based on the Irish legendary tale Táin Bó Cúailnge, and a lot of literary and cultural references. The way The Decemberists have to joyfully play with such a rich material transforms any moment of their music in a childhood's dream and - that's unavoidable - in a terribly serious matter.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

The Homecoming (Freedom's Children, 1970)

A strange, arcane, acid, trip into another dimension, this is "The Homecoming", taken from Astra, the most popular album by Freedom's Children. Based on Hammond and guitars,  this is the perfect son of the early heavy prog era. Unfortunately, the band is one of the most underrated ones, maybe because of their apartheid South-African era. But this track easily proves how innovative they were and how much they exploited the contemporary acid rock scene, with that smell of proto-prog I always like.

"Astra" was the second studio album by Freedom's Children. 

One could hardly decide the genre of their music, ranging from an experimental heavy prog to a dark space, featuring many tempo changes and a fluid, rich musical texture. The main riff is enthralling and the distorted vocals sound very effective. I also like the down tempo interlude à la VDGG and the creative use of the acoustic guitar lost in the background. An uncommon piece of music, IMHO, and a great discovery for those liking the hidden prog pearls.

Sunday 26 October 2014

Marsbéli krónikák (Solaris, 1984)

So full of Science Fiction inspirations (Bradbury's masterpiece Martian Chronicles for the track title and Lem's work for the band's name), this song is obviously an excellent specimen of electronic progressive rock. It's a long suite divided into three tracks and six movements, a collection of original arrangements and majestic atmospheres. Keyboards, keyboards everywhere, as you can imagine. And very good ones, to say it all.

This album included the title epic and six more tracks.

But the space mood doesn't mean this work is cold: on the contrary, emotions are fundamental here and you can almost touch them, especially when Attila Kollar's flute and the guitars add their sound to the keys. The resulting mix is something new and addictive to me. The choral parts are also worth a special mention, but the main treat is, IMHO, the way Solaris merge plain melodies and futuristic sounds. This is probably the most known Hungarian prog rock track ever, and I think it deserves such a widespread interest.

Friday 24 October 2014

The Great Escape (Marillion, 1994)

I know it's difficult to single out a "Brave" song, as this album is a strong, cohesive compisition, but "The Great Escape" has a distinctive enough structure to stand alone. In addition to this, it also has all the main characters of the album. It mixes a good melody and a creative arrangement with the usual Marillion features, such as Steve Rothery's dreaming guitar, Mark Kelly's ethereal keyboard background, Steve Hogarth's sensitive vocals and so on, but I especially appreciate here the excellent main melody and all its variations. The track includes two more sections called "The Last of You" and "Falling from The Moon", also very good and featuring sad, beautiful lyrics co-credited to Hogarth and Helmer.

This song was also released as a single in 1994.

This track is also well known by Marillion fans for its changeable endings, depending on its different editions and supports. The original CD version leads to a happier album finale, "Made Again", intended to raise up the listener's state of mind, while the 2-LP edition also offers an alternate (and sadder) 20 minute water noises to close the work. Finally, a so called spiral remake is also available as a bonus track in the remastered CD released in 1998. Be as it may, this is a great song IMHO, digging into the deepest recesses of human soul.

Thursday 23 October 2014

Methuselah's Children (Moon Safari, 2008)

Taken from the "Blomljud" double album, this "Methuselah's Children" isn't the longest epic of the lot, despite its more than 15 minutes of length, but it is - IMHO - one of the best and most distinctive tracks in this collection. If you read other posts about Moon Safari's songs in my blog, you probably know I love this Swedish band and their original style, midway between classic prog roots and folk inspiration,with a choral nuance.

"Blomljud" was Moon Safari's second studio work.

The first thing you'll notice in this "Methuselah's Children" will certainly be the flushing, beautiful vocal harmonies, a well known trademark of the band, but this isn't all. Next will come the keyboard progressions, both smooth and fast, the acoustic/electric interplays and - last but not least - the enthralling melodies gracing the whole song. Useful to say, some of the musical themes in this CD return in different songs, a very progressive way to set up a coherent work. I think Moon Safari's world is a sunny day, a blue Northern sky, a 21st Century prog dream.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Toward The Sea (Höstsonaten, 2002)

Höstsonaten are one of the several projects by Italian prog hero Fabio Zuffanti, the man behind Finisterre and La Maschera di Cera, just to name his most known bands. But Höstsonaten offer a very special kind of music, something full of classical inspiration, ambient sounds and strong melodies. This track is part of a 4 CD concept related to the four seasons (not an infrequent theme, I must admit) and more exactly it closes the album "Springsong", the first one of the SeasonCycle Suite to be released, even if it was conceived and credited as the final chapter of the series. 

The SeasonCycle includes: "Summereve", "Autumnsymphony",
"Winterthrough" and, of course, this "Springsong".
It's a diversified, challenging composition, including different themes and suggesting a bright, refreshing musical opennes, crossing over genres and formats. It's a visual kind of music, where sounds and landscapes are just as one. A special mention deserves the flushing paintings by Davide Guidoni gracing the CD and, of course, this is what I call music for the hearts and the minds.

Monday 20 October 2014

Jour après jour (Ange, 1975)

This song comes from the album "Émile Jacotey", one of the finest fruits of the French Prog tree (and you'll find other tracks from this LP in this little blog). "Jour après jour" ("Day by Day", in English) is a short, lyrical ballad exploiting the concept of the album about traditional country life. A medieval legend - the huntress and the white deer - matches with an acoustic, sweet melody, sung by Christian Décamps on a calm, almost whispering tone.
Ange in 2008. They're still on the road today.

The whole atmosphere is suspended between the real world and another, fairy dimension, so that the soft arrangement partly conceals a deeper, obscure fear. As usual, Ange intertwine magic and music, tradition and innovation. In short, they did exactly what a prog band should do.

Sunday 19 October 2014

On The Turning Away (Pink Floyd, 1987)

With "High Hopes"(also in this blog), "On The Turning Away" is my favourite track from Gilmour / Mason era of Pink Floyd. We don't need to compare this ballad with the far more adventurous track of the early Floyd or with those coming from the band's iconic middle period. Better enjoy this beautiful melody, the wise in crescendo volume and Gilmour's usual atmospheric solos.

By the way, the single version of this song was a US Billboard Rock Tracks #1.

It's one of those songs bearing a PF trademark so well carved in its sound that you immediately recognise it, even if it's the first time you listen to this. And you love such a track immediately, no matter the era or the lineup. It's something so well written, performed and arranged you can only give up one more time and play it again and again...

Friday 17 October 2014

Daphne (Laurel Tree) (Kayak, 1979)

"Phantom of The Night" is a rather good pop album by Kayak I don't especially recommend to the pure-prog friends that grace my blog, but it does includes some excellent tracks and even a properly progressive one, titled "Daphne (The Laurel Tree)". This song begins with an atmospheric ballad, very well written and arranged IMHO, then it rises up in tempo and volume, sounding like an epic song should, and featuring a very good instrumental coda.

This was the original cover of the album...
 ...and here's the re-issue one, taken from a 7" single art.

As usual with Kayak, the melody is excellent - and catchy too -  and all the instruments come in at the right moment, without any useless excess, but as majestically as they have to be in such a track. Really, this is a song that's worth a listening... and likely more.

Thursday 16 October 2014

Angels Have Fallen (Kansas, 1979)

"Monolith" was a very good album, seldom underrated by trendy musical critics (we'll survive), including some songs I still listen to with pleasure. One of those pearls surely is "Angels Have Fallen", written by Steve Walsh. It's an unusual track, starting like a piano ballad and passing through different phases, like hard rock and sophisticated pop. Its undeniable force is in the well found melody, however.

An apocalyptic landscape was inside the gatefold album.
The verse, in particular, is based on a versatile jewel-like line, that perfectly fits in both sweeter and harder arrangements. The voice of Steve Walsh tops such a tasty cake. And Kerry Livgren adds some effective solos to the song, a gift I surely appreciate. When I find a song full of good ideas and still able to move, well, I stop and listen to it. Will you do the same with "Angels Have Fallen"? I hope so.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Mindrevolutions (Kaipa, 2005)

When it comes to technical skills, we all agree that Kaipa are among the best performers out there. That said, sometimes there's a lack of emotion in their music and this is their only flaw to date, something one can ascribe to The Flower Kings too. This beautiful suite, however, includes all I'm looking for when I put a prog song into my CD reader (or in my playing list, to be a little more trendy). Imagine this "Mindrevolutions" as a musical sandwich, where the main theme - a higly emotional one - acts like the two slices of bread and the central section is like meat (or everything else that's tempting for you).

A beautiful and disquieting cover, I daresay.
Actually, this is a super stuffed sandwich, where Roine Stolt and his guitar play an essential role, perfectly supported by Jonas Reingold. But the main theme - sung by both Aleena and Patrik Lundström is a real treat to me, so intense and moving, with so well found variations, especially in its final reprise, that I rarely listened to something better recently. A great epic for all my experienced friends, but also for the romantic ones.

Monday 13 October 2014

Time And A Word (Yes, 1970)

The title track of the second studio album by Yes will always fascinate me. Not only its melody is one of the best creations by the band (well, this is co-signed by Jon Anderson and his Warriors ex-bandmate David Foster, so this is only 50% pure Yes made!), but I think that some of the most known features of the rising Yes sound start here. The loud bass lines, the airy chorus, the rich wall of sound, the keen vocal arrangements, the hiatus between Anderson's angel voice and the rock band background... it's all there!

In 1970 Yes were ready to launch their new musical vision.
Of course, here the lyrics aren't as tricky as in the following albums, and the classic song structure is still visible, but some expansions are already in place, so that we're halfway between the good old pop-rock and the new, exciting prog. That said, this is a song I never get tired to put in my playing list...

Sunday 12 October 2014

The North (Cast, 1996)

The huge discography of Cast includes so many prog pearls that it's difficult to choose one of them for my blog (but it's not the first one and it won't be the last). "The North" is a beautiful two part suite taken from the album "Beyond Reality", pretty much in neo-prog style, very well written and performed, I daresay. The two sections are titled "Northern Place" and "All The Way from Nowhere", and really begin with a Northern, rather cold mood, soon evolving into an up tempo track, and there's where we find the warmest soul of Cast.

"Beyond Reality" was the 6th studio album by Cast.

As usual, the sound is a European one, but the fire inside the song likely comes from Latin America. Some od the keyboard / guitar interplays are stunning, and please look at all those tempo changes! And what about that devilish instrumental finale? Definitely, one of the best bands in their genre, and one of the best set up tracks of their career.

Saturday 11 October 2014

Brother Where You Bound (Simon Says, 2008)

This is a track for prog lovers, rich in cross-references to classic albums and bands and full of changes, solos, interplays and assorted stuff. In a word, it's a long epic (some 26 minutes) paying respect to the ancient prog gods, but also drawing a 21st Century state of the art for our favourite genre. This is one of those suites you never get tired to listen to from the bombastic intro to the end, going through so many soundscapes,  reprises and musical zigzags.

"Tardigrade" is the third Simon Says' studio album.
In addiction to this, the musicians are all excellent and especially Magnus Paulsson, whose keyboards are like a flock of birds filling the sky. Really, these guys deserve all your attention and all the positive reviews I read about their works, especially about the "Tardigrade" album featuring this epic, that actually is one of the best gates to their colourful world.

Friday 10 October 2014

A Mind Beside Itself (Dream Theater, 1994)

Dream Theater obviously specialised in hard prog songs, seldom long and intricate ones. But they also know how to write plain, beautiful ballads, and this trilogy - taken from the album "Awake" - includes all their main writing habits. In fact, the first movement, "Erotomania", is a funny instrumental track, introducing the concept of the suite, namely madness and its different faces. "Voices" develops that theme in an up tempo and almost chaotic way, depicting mental illness in  its furious phase. But I better like by far the final  "The Silent Man", also released as a single.

 "Awake" was the third Dream Theater's studio album.

As I have a melodic, acoustic soul somewhere inside me, I can't deny I appreciate good melodies and well found chords. This section of the trilogy is about the other face of madness, the one dealing with isolation. It's a heartbreaking song, IMHO, and also an uncanny contrast with the previous movement. In a single suite, you'll meet all the moods of Dream Theater.

Thursday 9 October 2014

Arthur (Rick Wakeman, 1975)

Coming from Rick's arthurian comcept, this is one of the most Wakemanian tracks ever. It's up to you to decide if you like or dislike this man's style. I love it. Beginning with the inscription engraved on Excalibur's rock (Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone and anvil is the true born King of all Britain), the song alternates pompous keyboard riffs and effective sung melodies in a medieval tournament atmosphere.

One can love or hate this album, but it is a prog legend howsoever.

Be as it may, this opening track is full of inner energy and sounds sincere, the way Rick Wakeman usually does. The listener immediately knows that Rick believes in old legends and loves them. There's the good blend of irony and seriousness, epic and lyric tones, so that a shiver runs up my spine each time I listen to this song. I know that's silly, but there's nothing I can do about it. Just forgive me, listen to this song and find out how Wakeman is the true born King of prog England!

Wednesday 8 October 2014

To Where The Maps End (Rainbow Danger Club, 2011)

This is a fascinating mix of pop, prog and post-rock, ending up in a melodic and slow tempo song, full of good musical ideas and based on both electric and acoustic instruments, mostly the excellent Lao Xing Gan's trumpet. The melancholy mood of the track isn't as dark as many other contemporary creations. On the contrary, this is a dreamy world where Coldplay meet Genesis and the traditional prog gently flows into the math-rock stream.

"Where Maps End" was the band's debut album.

There's a growing presence of modern prog musicians in China today (you'll find more of them in this blog too), and it seems to me that  these bands set up their rarefied architectures with a keen attention to details and an undeniable good taste. IMHO, this track is but another proof of such a musical blossoming. Hope you'll enjoy it.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Il fiume - Parte prima (Le Orme, 1990)

When Le Orme came back in 1996 with a new album after a rather long hiatus, just a few prog lovers expected something good by them. And they had some reasons to be suspicious, having endured many arguable artistic choices from the band during the '80s and the early '90s. But "Il fiume" actually proved to be one of the best Le Orme's works, a concept about Eastern religions and philosophies, centred on the sacredness of rivers. The track I'm introducing here is the leading one, full of progressive fire and ethnic flavours.

With this album Le Orme definitely came back to their prog roots.

The main theme is really good and the double keyboard work is simply stunning. Another strong point of "Il fiume - Parte prima" ("The River"- Part One, in English) is Michi Dei Rossi's eclectic drumming, much more mature than previously, IMHO. I like the wole album very much, and such an intro immediately gives a hieratic and flowing pace to the entire work. A treat, I guarantee.

Monday 6 October 2014

I'll Never Be Like You (Once Again) (Saga, 1995)

The Canadian band Saga are among the most prolific prog artists ever, with more than 20 studio albums to date. They're also a very eclectic act, always looking for something new, and exploring such different worlds as hard progressive, neo-prog and arena rock, just to mention a few of them. This song, for example, taken from the "Generation 13" album, shows the easy-prog side of Saga. It's a ballad full of tension, based on a beautiful melody and featuring a rich orchestral arrangement.

I think this is one of the best albums is Saga's discography.

This one is never too pomp or intrusive, on the contrary it adds kind of more pathos to the song. Of course, "I'll Be Never Like You (Once Again)" is part of a concept album including 18 tracks and it should be better to listen to it in its own frame, but it's also a stand alone song, with a special, distinctive taste. If you want my opinion, try both the track and the album...

Sunday 5 October 2014

Awakening of The Elements (Lost World, 2006)

Lost World are among the most interesting Russian prog acts and the title track of their second studio album is an excellent proof of their skills. These musicians know how to mix traditional progressive rock and modern sounds, creating a diversified and enthralling soundscape, based on the perfect fusion of all instruments. This instrumental composition features in fact a brilliant wall of sound, swinging like ocean waves, but also some gentle, liquid passages (an intro and an interlude).

The three founding members of Lost World are classically
trained musicians. And one can guess that by their music...
The main theme is catchy and well found, the flute work is pure fire and some lightly distorted guitars provide a strong background for the vaguely ethnic solos of Andrii Didorenko's electric violin. The percussions are also very good, tracing unpredictable patterns all along the track. To my ears, this is simply beautiful music, even if the four natural elements really are an abused subject, but here they suggest a thrilling joie de vivre that's not so usual in prog rock.

Saturday 4 October 2014

Oxygène Part 2 (Jean-Michel Jarre, 1976)

One of my favourite electronic tracks ever. And with a strong, persistent symphonic smell, what's more. The whole "Oxygène" album is a treat, with its intricate architecture and its atmospheric sounds, but this track is simply exciting. On a slow tempo, arcane background Jean-Michel Jarre insinuates some swirling, electric flashes until the bombastic main theme explodes in all its glorious wideness. It's something like a blinding sunshine in the heart of a storm, like a stroke out of the blue.

Jarre released "Oxygène" in 1976, then a sequel in 1997 
and finally a remastered edition in 2007, called "Oxygène 3D".

Then the fluid, archaic waves close again before a second burst and a swinging finale, introducing the third track. As you probably deduced, I'm fond of "Oxygène" and especially of this second section. Jarre was surely reminiscent of the German electronic rock experience, but he translated that language in a more epic and full-bodied style, something I still listen to with a great, inner pleasure.

Friday 3 October 2014

Sirens (Arena, 1996)

When it comes to Arena, I immediately declare I love all their albums before their conversion to the metal religion. Albums like "Pride", for example, have a special touch, made of brilliant sounds and epic atmospheres, and kind of a joyful point of view on the progressive universe. This long song, "Sirens", is one of the best in such a musical style, full of tempo and mood changes, guitar solos, well found melodies.

"Pride" was Arena's second studio album in  1996.
The rythmic section too provide a lively, diversified structure on which the instrumental and vocal lines ride like on a troubled water and sometimes find a calmer sea. The main theme's different returns spot the track and virtually divide it in smaller compositions, all linked by inner and clever cross-references. A last special mention for the technical skills, simply stunning. But then, with the likes of Pointer, Nolan, Jowitt and so on, how could it be otherwise?

Thursday 2 October 2014

Ohm Sweet Ohm (Kraftwerk, 1975)

Taken from the album "Radio-Activity" - "Radio-Aktivität" was its original German title - this track is another specimen of the melancholy mood of Kraftwerk, that special nostalgy that grows up among electric wires and concrete buildings. As the album develops the double concept of radio and nuclear energy, Ohm seems a very good name for that and the "Home Sweet Home" joke is also a good close for the LP.

A reassuring, old fashioned picture, isn't it?

The first part of the song is pure electronic, with a distorted voice work, something weird and even scary in the line of previous tracks like "The voice of The Energy" or "Uranium", while the second section is a sweet, instrumental melody. But that's not all: this melody loop accelerates, changing once again the mood of the song, progressively wiping out the nostalgic atmosphere and bringing back the artificial, electronic album concept. Beautiful and strange, I daresday.

Wednesday 1 October 2014

The Lamb Lies down on Broadway (Genesis, 1974)

The title track of the most controversial Genesis album is a real treat, IMHO. I like every second of it: the waving piano intro, the american rock'n'roll theme, the unpredictable tempo change, the NYC inspired lyrics, everything. Peter Gabriel's rough vocals perfectly fit in this frame, adding a pre-punk touch to the big picture, something we also find here and there in the rest of the album. But here the melody is especially strong, a series of crescendos and largos creating a pathos and focusing on the lyrics passage about the lamb.

 This song was also released as a 7" single for the US market.
As the white animal is completely out of place in Broadway, there's also something weird in this apparently "normal" song, so that the listener is forewarned: this is not only rock'n'roll. It seems to me that the catchy opening tune slowly slips into a challenging adventure, opening the gates to one of the most surreal and unpredictable prog albums I've ever listened to.