Saturday 25 April 2015

Ten najpiękniejszy dzień (Exodus, 1980)

This is one of the brightest prog pearls from Poland. Exodus come from the '70s - when it wasn't so easy to be a rock band in their country - and released their debut album in 1980, including this title track. "Ten najpiękniejszy dzień" (meaning "The Most Beautiful Day"). It  reveals a strong symphonic side, but even if there are some definite Yes references, I daresay this is an original way to prog. The suite is set up following classical structures and the themes are all very good.

This album also includes three shorter and pleasant tracks.
There's a strong rythmic, dynamic background, but I also like the atmospheric interludes, something between prog and space rock. The track is divided into four movements, some of them featuring interesting vocal harmonies, that remind me now and then of traditional Eastern European ensembles. Most of the interplays are great, involving all the instruments in turn and sometimes leading to bombastic walls of sound. That said, there's no useless pomp in this song, just the good deal of sense of wonder we all like in a prog suite. Highly, highly recommended.

Friday 24 April 2015

Il banchetto (Premiata Forneria Marconi, 1972)

Another excellent track from PFM's second album "Per un amico". This is a longish one, starting like a gentle, folkish ballad, featuring well found satyrical lyrics about courtiers and opportunism... and probably that's why the band didn't translate this track in English in their first International release. They actually found their way to political song in a Renaissance disguise. 

PFM: The way we were...

This first section is followed by a long instrumental interlude, where the listener is somewhat unsettled and trasported into more adventurous dimensions: fake improvisations, synth embroideries, suggestive piano lines, liquid suggestions and a slow crescendo transform the opening ballad into a challenging still enjoyable prog trip, until the main theme is restored in the reassuring finale. For all those reasons I'd say this song is a true "banchetto" (that's a "feast") for old and new progfans. And the main course is music, of course.

Thursday 23 April 2015

Flight (Peter Hammill, 1980)

This is a prog suite I love so much... and for many reasons. First things first: the music is excellent. Good melodies (the opening theme, for example) and clever, still rather plain arrangements, well done tempo changes and so on. Then, another strong point is, of course, Peter Hammill's vocals, with all their sad, heartbreaking, even weird appeal we all know so well. This voice shines brighter than ever when a bare piano supports it, like in the "Flying Blind" section.

A bare, dark cover, perfeclty matching with the music inside.

By the way, we need some data now: the suite comes from the album "A Black Box" and is divided into seven movements for more than 19 minutes of total running time. In addiction to the above notes, I'll add that this is the most intimate epic I've ever listened to and also the darkest one, except VDGG's ones, obviously. Some "noisy" sections exist here, but they're sharp and sour, so that this track can be considered as a long, intriguing confession, an inner struggle put down in music. Good music, IMHO.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Beyond The Mountains (Daniel Denis, 1991)

I usually don't like what someone would call experimental music or maybe RIO. But I do think Daniel Denis - yes, the member of Univers Zéro - knows how to explore new frontiers without that good deal of boredome such a task too often icludes. Take this "Beyond The Mountains", the opening track of his solo album "Sirius And The Ghosts". It's a rather long instrumental based on an obsessive short theme, a compulsive, slightly dissonant lilt going through a dozen variations. Sounds exactly like the stuff I usually try to skip. Well, not at all.

This album was the first solo work by Daniel Denis.

Not only Denis catches my attention, but he also succeeds in what seemed imposssible to me: his piece of music surely is unusual and unsettling, but also pleasant and full or real emotions. Oh my... not a pure intellectual experience, but a revealing, passionate, even touching track! Try it, my friends, and see how RIO - or whatever you call this kind of music - can be when a great and sensitive musician takes care of it...

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Epilogue (Salem Hill, 1998)

The American prog scene is a very rich and diversified one. Salem Hill, for example, successfully engaged themselves in a rather easy prog rock path (with a pinch of mistery in it) that I like very much. This "Epilogue" is the closing track of a very good concept album called "The Robbery of Murder", originally recorded on cassette in 1995, then re-recorded and revised for the final CD version. It's a good melodic, even symphonic song, in a soundtrack-like glorious way. The theme is so well found and the arrangement so cleverly set up that I was reminded of Alan Parsons Project, but also of Spock's Beard.

"The Robbery of Murder" was Silent Hill's fourth official release.

I like the way the vocals carry on the band's wall of sound and the guitar solo perfectly finishes the work. A light, but also lively and fresh approach to music this is, and a very flushing one. That doesn't mean you'll be overwhelmed by the sound, on the contrary you'll be able to identify and to enjoy each single instrument and each single variation. A wise production and a definite taste are responsible for that. Two more reasons to try this track.

Monday 20 April 2015

Hole (Anekdoten, 1999)

Anekdoten have always been fond of King Crimson's sound, but they've also been so clever to arrange their own style. This is definitely true with this song, "Hole", taken from the album "From Whitin". We find here some "Cadence and Cascade" relics, but also a splendid mix of Northern darkness, bright guitar riffs and updated walls of sound. Nicklas Berg's Mellotron is simply perfect, and the highly creative drumming by Peter Nordins gently supports the rest of the band's emboideries, always delicate and never sweetish.

"From Within" was Anekdoten's third studio album.

What I really like here is the way the band have to dig into their souls, following a fascinating and somewhat painful path. The long down tempo instrumental section filling the central part of the track is beathtaking to me, like glimpses of another world through thin, fluttering veils. Come and see yourselves...

Sunday 19 April 2015

The Beginning And The End (Jadis, 1992)

"More Than Meets The Eyes" was the first officially released album by Jadis, the band including such good musicians as IQ members John Jowitt and Martin Orford, and especially Gary Chandler, the leading man of the band. Their music is a melodic one, rather guitar-driven, but, of course, also full of atmospheric keyboards. I especially like this track for its well developed themes and the way each musician gives its best in it.

This is the original CD cover art: you'll also find a special
edition, released in 2004 and including some bonus rarities.

All I like in neo-prog movement is there, while there's no trace of all I could dislike (please note I just st wrote I could dislike): no pomp, no affected arrangements, no musicians showing off useless skills, no sweetish emboideries, no pretentious lyrics. Instead, you'll find those almost visual guitars, flowing like fresh water and a lot of good changes in due time. Really, this is a piece of music that revives me and makes me leave apart dull days and busy streets.

Saturday 18 April 2015

La herencia de Pablo (Pablo, 1983)

Pablo are one of finest Argentinian prog bands and their debut album called "Pablo el enterrador" (meaning "Pablo The Gravedigger") still stands as a classic today, so that the band is usually known with this debut LP name. The track I'm introducing here, "La herencia de Pablo" (that's to say "Pablo's Heritage") proves how agreeable and well played Pablo's music was. Very similar to Italian prog, this is a clever mix of acoustic instruments, mild electronic keys and vocal harmonies.

Pablo's fans had to wait until 1998 for the band's second album!

This track, in particular, is one of the most joyful and progressive ones in the album, with a constant piano / synth / guitars interplay, going through many fast progressions until the final, glorious guitar solo. The main theme is lively and pleasant, and the rythm section perfectly supports the leading instruments. It's the closing track of the album, an instrumental outro of the concept, based on  Pablo's character. A hidden, warm, passionate and rather naive pearl of Latin prog, if ever there was one.

Friday 17 April 2015

33 Years (Isildurs Bane, 1989)

The story of the French postman Ferdinad Cheval, who decided to build up a castle - the "Ideal Palace", as he called it - using the stones and the rocks he collected during his walks, has always charmed me. In not alone there, as Isildurs Bane recorded an entire album inspired by Cheval's extraordinary project, titled "Cheval - Volonté de rocher" (meaning "Cheval - A Rock Will").

This is the album cover...
...and here you are the Postman's incredible achievement.
This orchestral track including a spoken expanation of the story is called "33 Years", the time Cheval spent building up his fairy castle. The theme is very well found and the orchestra / rock band mix perfectly works. As always with Isildurs Bane, there's a classical arrangement graced by properly prog rock cameos. And a good deal of good taste, too.

Thursday 16 April 2015

Melancolia Street (Baba Scholae, 1969)

This track is a rare proto-prog gem, IMHO. Baba Scholae were one of the first non-UK prog bands in Europe and their "69" album still surprises me for its unpredictable series of songs, each one bearing its own original approach to art rock. And just think this album was never released in its days...! This opening track starts like a jazz-rock piece, then goes through a hippy ballad à la King Crimson and a good deal of instrumental and choral bridges, all very charming. Jean-Yves Labat de Rossi, the mind behind Baba Scholae label, sets up an entire musical world in this 8 minute song!

This album was recorded in London and mostly features British musicians.
The vaguely ethnic flute is one of the band's best features, and they add here distorted vocals and many tempo changes. Really, this song seems to me the prog rising sun, and it also announces some of the special characters of French progressive rock, like the theatrical atmosphere or the revival of folk roots. Please listen to this, I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Island (Mayfair, 2013)

I was immediatly charmed by this prog ballad when I first listened to it. Mayfair are an Austrian band playing their own kind of rock, related to prog, mainstream, metal and melodic genres. Mayfair don't like tricky arrangements and are rather lured by plain structures and coherent moods. "Island", as a matter of fact, is a pure evocative song, sung both in German and English and taken from the album "Schlage Mein Herz Schlage..." (meaning "Beat, My Heart, Beat...").

This was Mayfair's fourth studio album.
These musicians have a strong melodic and emotional approach to music, something rather rare among prog or prog-related bands, but also something I usually appreciate very much. And they're also very good at mixing guitars and keyboards in order to create a suspended atmosphere, cleverly stressed by the rythm section. This song is a crepuscular sketch, a deep, inner reflection proving how much a plain ballad can be... progressive!

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Music Reincarnate (Rick Wakeman, 1976)

Here you are a true old progressive rock suite, coming from one of the men who mostly contributed to the definition of the genre. "Music Reincarnate" comes from Rick's album "No Earthly Connection" and spans over 28 minutes of duration. This track is divided into five parts (The WarningThe Maker, The Spaceman, The Realisation and The Reaper) each one featuring its own spirit, but all fitting very well into the big picture. Due to the length of the suite, its last part opened the original LP's B-side. 

The original LP included instructions to "bring the cover to life"... placing a reflecting cylinder as shown!
The lyrics about God being musically deceived by humans probably aren't Wakeman's best literary achievement, but the music is excellent, including several well found melodies, tons of tempos, moods, vocal harmonies, orchestral arrangements and - of course - keyboard solos. Ashley Holt's vocals are another good reason to dig up this song: a warm, bittersweet voice going up and down your spine, especially during the second section of the epic, likely my favourite one (but I'm also partial to part 3). Well, it's about time to let you listen this pearl once again.

Monday 13 April 2015

Save Our Land (Vantasma, 2006)

Believe it or not, a growing number of Indonesian bands play prog and even neo-prog. Take this Vantasma, strongly influenced by IQ, Pendragon & friends, but with their own recognizable mix of keyboard progressions and guitar solos. This song is taken from their debut album called "Beyond Fallen Dreams" and is a very well written and performed example of progressive rock. Opik's vocals are strong and rather high-pitched, in the vein of some metal-prog acts when the music gets heavier, but also sensitive and even delicate when the volume gets down.

The Indonesian Progressive Society produced this debut work.

The track is rather long (some 13 minutes) and diversified, and its instrumental sections really are good and highly dynamic. I also like the way these musicians prepare the tempo changes, and their taste for bright largos, something reminding me of Kansas. Vantasma learned their lesson very well and picked up all they needed to bake a fragrant, tasty musical cake ready for my little afternoon prog tea!

Sunday 12 April 2015

The Untold Want (Lady Lake, 2005)

The story of Progressive Rock is full of deceiving reunions, as many bands of old come up with new albums, usually far less interesting than the Golden Era ones. Strangely enough, this wasn't the case with Lady Lake. These Dutch musicians disbanded after their first album "No Pictures", released in 1977 and came back in 2005 with a very good CD called "Supercleandreammachine". "The Untold Want" is the opening suite of this second studio work, divided into twelve musical sketches, most of them  in a melodic and evocative mood, not too far from Camel, and with a touch of ambient music.

There's a trio line-up in this album: keys, drums and guitars.

This epic is a pleasant journey, a series of intense and slightly acid landscapes, where each instrument adds its own touch, like colours do in a Manet's painting. Despite its melodic texture, this track is deep and unpredictable, both fluid and diversified. If I could welcome all reunions as I did with Lady Lake's, well, that would be great to be a progfan in the 21st Century!

Saturday 11 April 2015

Snowballs (Horizont / Горизонт, 1985)

The first Horizont's album actually is a prog gem and definitely can be considered as one of the best fruits of Russian prog. It only includes three long tracks and this is the opening one, called "Snowballs". That's an excellent example of what we used to call descriptive music, so that you can actually see a snowball battle going on and an enchanted, wintery landscape all around.

Horizont in concert during the '70s.

Ranging from symphonic to electronic arrangements, this instrumental track includes effective choral harmonies and some beautiful guitar / piano interplays. It's a puzzling mix of Yes and Kraftwerk, Focus and Magma... in short, it's Horizont themselves. I don't know how it will seem like to you, but I bet you won't be bored at all!

Friday 10 April 2015

The Cross & The Crucible (Pallas, 2001)

Pallas made their way into the progressive hearts thanks - among many other qualities - to their energy and to their brilliant tempo changes. That's exactly what you'll find in the title song of their 2001 album. A beautiful, deep background supports Alan Reed's vocals in the first part of the track, while the guitar and some pseudo-gregorian choirs introduce a largely instrumental final section, full of epic effects and including a wonderful guitar solo by Niall Mathewson.

"The Cross & The Crucible" was the fifth studio album by Pallas.
This song presents in a highly dynamic way the concept of the album, based on the double option of faith and science and on their relative risks. What I especially like here is the round, somewhat tridimensional sound, and also the pleasant contrast between smooth and rough instruments, something Pallas know how to set up since their debut album. Thank you for that, guys!

Thursday 9 April 2015

Scarescrow (Albion, 1995)

Taken from this Polish band's second album, "Scarescrow" opens the record with a sweet but never sweetish ballad, not so far from Marillion's mid-period ones, featuring the distinctive female vocals of Ania Batko and a well found melody. This is one of those songs between pop and prog, both traditional and modern, including a good, dreamy guitar solo and a big deal of background keyboards.

This album features songs in both English and Polish languages.

It seems to me that such a calm, evocative music requests a great amount of good taste to be put down in notes and words. This is exactly what Albion have, with the welcome addition of an irreproachable technique. So, if you need a short break between two endless, experimental epics, this is what you need. Nothing more and - believe me - definitely nothing less.

De futura (Magma, 1976)

This long epic by Magma, taken from the album "Üdü Ẁüdü ", proves how unpredictable and still pleasant their music can be. Yes, Magma aren't always arcane and tricky: this song starts like a sci-fi soundtrack, with a well recognizable  riff, then goes through a jazzy bridge and here you are an ironic and also military choir. When the bells sound, a funky-rock passage comes in and weird vocals play with the bass and the drums to bring back the military and funny theme.

This was Magma's sixth studio album.

Next, an atmospheric interlude including some electronic devices, a slightly distorted accelerating bass line, sci-fi effects again on an incredibly complex rythm, finally a rather heavy rock riff and the closing cymbal-driven section. Strange to say, such a musical mess flows like a river through a variated landscape, and you reach the end of the song in no time, following the rythm section and seeing alien worlds and races with your mind's eye. And this one's played just by the hardcore trio of the band... Weird, but also very, very good. Bravo!

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Introducing The Past (Gorgo, 2012)

These Gorgo actually are an interesting band. They come from Ukraine and they play a full-bodied prog rock with folk and electronic elements. This "Introducing The Past" is the instrumental intro of the album "The Clash of Ages" and is full of dynamic solutions. As the album deals with different eras and civilisations of our human race, this overture has a rich, almost festive sound, and many instruments and effects contribute to the big picture.

Gorgo released their second album with Muséa label.

Those who like short and effective prog tracks will find here their cup of tea, and also those who like crossover prog will be satisfied enough. In fact, this track belongs to the sunny side of prog, somewhere between Spock's Beard and Minimum Vital, but with a strongest electronic approach. This joyful track is something I listen to when I need an extra dose of energy. Try it, then let me know if it worked...

Monday 6 April 2015

Converging Universes (Now, 1991)

These Belgian musicians released three albums between late '80s and early '90s, and this track, coming from their second work, "Spheres", probably is their best piece of music. It's a 33 minute suite, divided into seven movements, basically a Yes-inspired track, but with an original choice of effects and many beautiful themes, cleverly lined up. The singer Vincent Fis has a warm, light voice and he also plays guitar very well. As usual with Yes-oriented bands, you'll find a good deal of vocal harmonies and bass lines, as well as keyboard fast progressions and church-like organs... and I'm pleased to say everything's well done.

This is by far my favourite album by Now.
I also recommend this song for the mood changes, the spacey interludes and the suggestive interplays. The sound is never too compact and each instrument has its own highlight. Now also add some piano-electric guitar duets I really like and not necessarily included in the Yes canon. So, don't expect weird experiments here, but enjoy prog as it used to be (and maybe should be).

Sunday 5 April 2015

Shadow of The Hierophant (Steve Hackett, 1975)

One of the best Genesis members' solo tracks, IMHO. Coming from Steve's first album, "Voyage of The Acolyte", this rather long piece of music also features Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins and stunning Sally Oldfield's vocals. Misty and sad, based on the unusual union of an acoustic verse and a fully symphonic chorus, "Shadow of The Hierophant" is full of surprises. The volume changes are the first feature the listener comes across, then he realizes how tricky and ingenious the architecture of this song is.

Hackett's debut album is full of sense of wonder.

Eleven minutes of spectacular, more or less fantasy sketches, suggesting valleys and heroes, pains and triumphs. More Genesis than Genesis themselves, this track goes through its different phases buiding up a winding crescendo. Even being a guitarist's brainchild, "Shadow of The Hierophant" looks like a full band's work - and somehow it actually is. That's why it shines on as one of the first and best steps of Steve Hackett's unpredictable and overwhelming solo career.

Saturday 4 April 2015

Thoughts (Zaragon, 1984)

The very sound of the '80s is here, my prog friends. Zaragon were an interesting Danish act, playing a lushing kind of neo-prog and playing it well. This long song comes from their first and only album, called "No Return" (that's what they did, more or less...). You'll find a wide, melodic singing, a series of instrumental bridges, sharing the foreground between guitar and keyboard solos. The latter are maybe a little dated today, still they're definitely pleasant.

The CD re-issue of this album includes a specially recorded bonus track.

Please don't forget this song was recorded during the first wave of neo-prog bands, well before Marillion's international success. So Zaragon gathered many different models and inspirations, and if I had to choose the band they look like the most, well, I'd say Eloy, but with a bonus taste for melody. All in all, this is a plain, enjoyable piece of music, something you could listen to on a relaxing, festive morning... remembering all the good old days. Gone but not forgotten.

Friday 3 April 2015

The Ghost & The Teenager (The Watch, 2001)

Simone Rossetti's band - once called The Nightwatch - is one of the best values in the Italian prog scene and "pour cause", as they say in France... or, as we could all say, for many good reasons. In fact, Simone's Gabriel-esque vocals and his undeniable charisma aren't the only merits of The Watch. This song, coming from the album "Ghost", will prove how good all the musicians are and how well found are all the musical themes. True, there's a very strong Genesis (mainly Gabriel's era) influence - something the band will soften during their career - but the composition has its own strength and the song is very well set up, featuring an effective piano and many tempo changes, so that even if the big picture is a familiar one, the track is a dynamic and unpredictable one. 

"Ghost" was the first album the band released as "The Watch".

The weird and dark lyrics add some more originality to "The Ghost & The Teenager", that's why I can't label this band as a mere Genesis clone: they actually got hold of the Charterhouse boys spirit and re-invented their beloved world from a new and genuine point of view. Just listen to the hunting keyboards, the sparkling rythm section or the uncanny guitar work in this song and I'm sure you'll ask for more. That's what I did, after all.

Thursday 2 April 2015

Black And White (Sylvan, 2015)

"Home" is a brave album by this well known German band. There's far more introspection and classical inspiration than in their previous releases, but the sound is no doubt modern and even pulsing and scratching. "Black And White" is somehow part of a four song sequence, the very heart of the album, sharing the same inner mood and some recurring musical themes, but also is a stand alone song. An interesting one, IMHO.

"Home" is a concept about rediscovering childhood memories.

It includes a very well written melody, some electronic backgrounds, several acoustic touches and a biting electric guitar. As in the rest of the album, Marco Gluehmann's vocals come from the deepest regions of his soul, sometimes reminding me of Steve Hogarth's sensitiveness, but with Marco's distinctive strength. The highly diversified arrangements and the effective bridges between the different sections grace a song I highly recommend to you all.

Wednesday 1 April 2015

Supertwister (Camel, 1974)

Camel's "Supertwister" and its album "Mirage" are all time classics, so that I won't waste my time trying to describe them. I'll just say that this short instrumental - including a slow, winding theme and a lively, vaguely folk dance - could be easily chosen as a prog rock promo. Actually, all is there: nostalgic atmospheres, keyboard progressions, tempo changes, beautiful interplays... and even Andrew Latimer's flute!

Andrew Latimer playing his flute in a '70s show.

What I like above all the rest - here and in many other Camel songs - is the lushing, fluid sound of the band, their way to suggest red sunsets and blue waters, and all that in only 3 minutes... that's why, I presume, I usually listen to this song two or three times in a row. A prog compulsion, I daresay.