Wednesday 30 September 2015

The Seventh House (IQ, 2000)

I must admit I wasn't especially fond of this song when I first listened to it, back in the year 2000. But it's been constantly growing inside my soul, so that now it is one of my favourite songs by IQ. And that's saying something! It could be because of Peter Nicholl's disarmingly sincere performance, or maybe because of the neat and convincing guitars, or even because of the keyboards short but effective solo... I really don't know, but of that I'm sure: this is a song passing on me a serene, almost supernatural sense of easiness.

"The Seventh House" was the eighth studio album by IQ (including
"Seven Stories into 98") ...and the first one of the 21st Century!

It's strange, isn't it? There's nothing in the lyrics nor in the music itself actually suggesting such a comfortable feeling, nonetheless a great number of fans and occasional listeners tell me they shared my experience. This song seems to be projected toward a higher and clearer sky. All the tempo and theme changes are so natural and so fluid that I sometimes wonder where on Earth IQ members were when they wrote this song...

Tuesday 29 September 2015

It All Becomes Clearer (Harvest, 2014)

Another band from the 2000s that I actually like very much. This time they're from Spain and this song comes from their album called "Northern Wind". This title says it all, so please don't expect Flamenco rock or sunny, Mediterranean moods: these musicians are on the windy, wintery, all-British side of prog. A classic keyboard-oriented prog meets a celtic female voice and a rather indie rock background. All in all, this music is pleasant and emotionally strong, with clever tempo changes and a good deal of instrumental parts.

This "Northern Wind" was the third studio work by Harvest.

Rough riffs and delicate melodies, essential piano touches and effective chords, these are the main ingredients of a savoury dish, with some good and never too long electric guitar solos to top the pie. These clear and neat sounds seem to me like a cool breeze coming from the sea, a refreshing whiffle announcing the stormy season. Oh, please stop me: I'm getting maudlin!

Monday 28 September 2015

Color humano (Almendra, 1969)

The self-titled debut album by Argentinian band Almendra can be considered as an essential brick in the building of South American rock 'n' roll wall. This track, in particular, is the proggest side of such an interesting brick. Not only it was a 9 minutes one, but it was a brave mix of many different moods. A melodic ballad meets a very acid and bluesy electric guitar solo, then a bass guitar and electric guitar interplay before the ballad comes back.

Almendra were going to explore many sides of rock...

Some abrupt changes in the final section add more and more original elements to the song, definitely an unusual combination of colours and sounds. Another good example of the culture medium on which progressive rock was silently growing up in Argentina and in the entire Latin America. Not only Britain, then... we knew that, but another living proof is welcome.

Sunday 27 September 2015

Bedrohung (Flaming Bess, 1979)

One of the last fully symphonic albums released during the '70s, "Tanz der Götter" ("Dance of The Gods", that's to say) has the eclectic and full-bodied approach of the British prog heroes, but also the theatrical and mainly instrumental architecture we find in so many German bands of the same period. The opening track, called "Bedrohung" (something like "Threat" in English) is one of the most representative ones of the band's style.  
The original cover art for "Tanz der Götter".
You'll also find a deluxe edition released in 2005.
Flaming Bess had a rather long story behind them when they finally released their debut album in 1979, and they enriched their progressive palette with new colours coming from the late '70s music: pop-rock, funky, folk, even disco... and still the big picture is definitely prog! Acoustic and electric guitars, pulsing basses, bright piano and up to date synths... all in one box! Flaming Bess also added some spoken passages to this song and to all the other ones in the LP. Fascinating, that's the word.

Saturday 26 September 2015

Welcome to The Machine (Pink Floyd, 1975)

One of the most claustrophobic and impressive portraits of the entertainment business ever. The great deal of synths employed here probably is the signature feature of "Welcome to The Machine", and the way those electronic devices interact with the acoustic guitars and a plethora of tape effects is even more peculiar. This song quickly became a popular standard of floydian sound, mixing slow bluesy measures, space rock and basic ballads into a fascinating melting pot. 

Cartoonist Gerald Scarfe created a disquieting video for this song.

Even more, the lyrics of this track, staging a dialogue between a record industry manager and a wannabe pop star, was the iconic rendition of a then widespread cliché about the pretended constrast between the rock and roll rebellion and the greedy record companies. For sure, the noise of the packing machine closing the song never abandoned an entire generation of listeners.

Friday 25 September 2015

Le matin du premier jour (Triangle, 1972)

Triangle were rather successful during the transitional era between beat and prog, when they adopted an eclectic approach to music. Their vocal harmonies and their catchy tunes went on very well with a series of less usual musical solutions. This song (in English: "The First Day Morning"), taken from their second album called "II", is a good example of their flower power and melodic way... and also featured a special guest: Jean-Michel Jarre!

This album is often called "Viens avec nous", from its hit single.

Yes, our keyboard hero added some electronic effects to this acoustic ballad, creating a lysergic mix that's more '70s than the '70s themselves! As usual with Triangle, there is a Canterbury sound taste floating about, but Jarre's contribution puts in a sci-fi mood that strangely matches with the other ingredients of such a weird recipe. A musical time machine...

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Labyrinth of Doors (Mechanical Butterfly, 2014)

How many excellent prog bands play and write music out there? Surely more than I can imagine and each time I come across one of them I feel happy... then, of course, I put their music here, in my blog. So let me introduce you to Mechanical Butterfly, an Italian band that actually deserves more and more attention. This track, the instrumental "Labyrinth of Doors", comes from the album "The Irresistible Gravity" and is a spectacular, lushing, still well balanced display of prog. A steampunk background meets a stunning instrumental performance and a perfectly conceived song architecture.

Giuliana Pulvirenti signed this cover art. Another winning point.

A main "fast and furious", heavy mood is enriched here and there by more delicate and somehow Victorian interludes. This is just boiling lava going up and down my spine... so that when I discovered that these musicians live near the Mount Etna I definitely wasn't surprised. Not at all, I daresay. But I bet you'll be all surprised by this dynamic, energetic, blazing piece of music!

Tuesday 22 September 2015

P's March (Focus, 1973)

This song by major Dutch band Focus needs some explanatory notes. Firstly, it comes from an album titled "Ship of Memories" released in 1976, but including outtakes from previous albums. That's why this track was recorded in 1973 and left out the album "Hamburger Concerto". Secondly, the mysterious "P" of the title stands for "Pierre", drummer Pierre Van Der Linden's first name. Even if this is an outtake, I like it very much.

This is just a compilation, but there are a few great tracks there!

I appreciate the double face of "P's March", with its folkish and rather Medieval flute theme and its melodic and slightly acid electric guitar counter-theme. It's an unusual and apparently uneven pair, but they work so well together: the first one is delicate, bright and somehow frivolous, while the second one is grave, deep and pensive. They're as different as life itself can be.

Sunday 20 September 2015

A Crack in The Ice Part I & II (Adventure, 2009)

Founded by multi-instrumentalist Odd Roar Bakken (playing mainly guitars and keyboards), this Norwegian act is another good example of the Symphonic revival of the 2000s. This "A Crack in The Ice", taken from the album "Beacon of Light", is split into two parts and is a blazing, enjoyable series of tempo changes, instrumental solos and theatrical, melodic sung themes. The vintage prog underground of the song is mixed with a heavy rock soul and a rock opera atmosphere, so that the big picture has its own dense and warm flavour.

Well... that's what I call an epic cover art!

Strangely enough, this suite opens on a fast-tempo basis, then it finds its own calmer and melodic path, on which the guitar and the keys perform alternate and beautiful solos. The lead vocalist has a powerful voice and the backing singers provide an extra energy that I appreciate very much. What else? The Great North strikes again...

Friday 18 September 2015

Somewhere Out There (The Home Guard, 2015)

Frankly, I was immediately surprised by this song when I first listened to it. I mean pleasantly surprised. It's a rather long track full of the most British rainy melancholy and also packed with the sparkling kind of energy that only the youngest good bands can put into music and words. The duo behind the challenging name of The Home Guard create a double sided kind of music, a fascinating mix of essential pop-rock and polished progressive rock, a combination some other 2010s British bands also tried to offer.

This song comes from the album "Nature vs Nurture vs Nietzsche".
Oh my... I'll never be able to pronounce that correctly!

Here, however, there's more than this, yes, there's something I like above all the rest: pure emotions. Each single note of "Somewhere Out There" is conceived to communicate an inner feeling, each sound is there to move the listener, to wake up his (or her) soul. Take the instrumental section of this song: grey as a winter sky and blue as the open sea. These musicians master the lost art of delightful contrasts: flute and distorted guitars, solid chords and acoustic embroideries, catchy tunes and unexpected changes. In short: prog heaven.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Tulen Pisara (Fantasia, 1975)

This arcane, atmospheric and somehow disquieting track comes from the only album released by Fantasia, a Finnic band active during the 70s. Their eclectic vein ranges from the romantic accents to the jazzy arrangements, including a good deal of acid guitars. "Tulen Pisara" offers a sweet and rather melancholic sung theme, some interesting vocal harmonies and a liquid instrumental central section that really brings the listener to the lysergic era.

Fantasia disbanded in 1979 releasing only this self-titled work.

The keyboards provide a misty background on which the guitars draw their winding and effective pattern. I sometimes wonder how many prog pearls like this one hid themselves in dusty and forgotten shelves. Disbanded bands, long gone experiments, one-album acts from the end of the world... I'm grateful to all those digging into the prog rock history and giving to those songs a second chance.

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Far Away (Disperse, 2010)

Poland is currently home to neo-prog and to many other progressive rock variations. A good reason to thank prog fans from that Country, but also an excellent reason to explore the local rock scene and pick up some good songs for my blog. This one, "Far Away", is one of my favourite tracks by Disperse, a young and interesting act. It comes from their debut album called "Journey through The Hidden Gardens", including some average songs and some really good ones, especially this one. It surely will remember you some well known neo-prog bands like IQ and Shadowland, but I think there's a distinctive mix of energy, rough guitars and polite sounds that are worth your attention.

This album also includes some heavier songs.

These musicians surely have a good sense of measure and know how to change the tempos and the moods, how to open new musical landscapes and how to buid up a coherent architecture. I like the way they melt rythmic solutions and melodic themes searching for a perfectly balanced song. A track like this one actually brings me far away the daily, material world and disperse my darkest thoughts. Thank you for that!

Friday 11 September 2015

Сарабанд / Saraband (Велислав Иванов / Velislav Ivanov, 2008)

Something dark and calm, this time. If you like rather easy and melancholic neo-prog, this Bulgarian artist should be your cup of tea. I like his minimalist kind of prog, based on good melodies and on atmospheric keyboards. No other instruments, apart Velislav's voice, can be heard in this song, taken from the album "Тъй близко до самия небосвод" (something like "So Close to the Sky Itself" in English).

This dark concept album was the second studio work by Ivanov.

No special effects, no tricky arrangements, no great performances... just a young man, his black and white keys, his morn thoughts and his passion for prog music. I can't exactly say why I'm moved by such a bare song and by someone singing in a language I don't understand, but I'm really touched and this is a good reason enough to put this song in my blog. Even more: I like the whole album and once again, please, don't ask me why. Prog is a mystery and may it stay so.

Thursday 10 September 2015

Abaddon's Bolero (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1972)

"Abaddon's Bolero" is one of the tracks gracing ELP's "Trilogy" album and probably one of Emerson's best tracks. The structure and the title of this track have a patent reference to Ravel's famous composition because of its crescendo arrangement, while, of course, the theme is an original one. Keith's keyboards provide all the variations and the effects, and they surely are a treat, but I wouldn't forget the rythmic structure supporting Emerson's efforts.

That's what I call a crescendo!

Never boring, never predictable, "Abaddon's Bolero" change its unique theme in a profusion of moods, colours and impressions, so that the intellectual pattern of the track goes on perfectly well with its emotional power. A clever creation, a modern classic, a monument to progressive rock, IMHO.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Emergence (Visible Wind, 1994)

Coming from Québec Province, these Canadian artists are a long running band whose discography spans over three decades, from the late '80s to the early 21st Century. This is the title track from their 1994 studio album and shows their dynamic and ever changing kind of neo-prog rock. Not only keyboards in their music: you'll find here a well played guitar and a sensitive, eclectic rythm section.

"Emergence" was the third studio album by Visible Wind.

The sound solutions aren't necessarily new, but the track is built up following an original and unpredictable pattern, lining up diversified moods and many interesting breaks, especially when the bass guitar comes in. It's a pleasant instrumental track, full of energy and atmosphere, exploring a wide progressive spectre from the space rock to the Marillion-like melodies. More than this, these musicians are able to communicate their passion for a genre they like and they're happy to play. An excellent point, IMHO.

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Your Eyes (Hoelderlin, 1976)

I adore Hoelderlin's sweet and warm kind of prog. This song, "Your Eyes", taken from the 1976 album "Clowns & Clouds" is even more than this, featuring a slightly acid arrangement and a more experimental vein. The vaguely jazzy rythmic backgroung is highly creative and all the instruments add their own distinctive touch to this unusual song, where a classic melody meets a syncopated tempo.

"Clowns & Clouds" was the third studio album by Hoelderlin.
Of course, there is also room for some delicate and poetic moments, the ones the band is famous for. This is a brilliant example of how a bunch of good musicians can write a fully enjoyable song without any trace of banality. And what about the final violin solo? Pure gold, believe me. Once again, I recommend this song by Hoelderlin to all my progressive friends out there.

Sunday 6 September 2015

Brainstorm (Mastermind, 1992)

This band is essentially based on the skills of two brothers: Rich and Bill Berends, coming from New Jersey. This long and dynamic suite comes from their second album and is pure musical fire. Divided into seven sections, it starts with a hard intro, then goes on exploring epic and heavy prog solutions, always keeping the right amount of attention to the compositional side of the band's work. So the guitars are fast & furious, the drums go on like a tropical storm, but such a high volume performance never hides nor cancels the underlying melodies.

"Brainstorm" is the opening and title track of this album.

This is what once was called heavy prog: a muscular wall of music, but the Berends brothers know that power always requires control. And they do control their performance: each second of this suite is keenly studied and placed where the big picture needs it. There are a few quieter moments, of course, but they also are full of the inner tension that is Mastermind's trademark. In short, if you like juicy and spicy prog dishes, I bet it's lunch time for you!

Saturday 5 September 2015

Quartet (Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe, 1989)

I like this track so much. It's a four part suite lasting some nine minutes and they all are minutes of chilling out delight. The first movement, called "I Wanna Learn" is an acoustic composition, driven by gentle guitars, a mandolin and, of course, Jon's vocals. The second section is titled "She Gives me Love" and continues on a more lively rythm the same acoustic and vaguely folk mood, giving this time more place to Wakeman's keys (a profusion of keys, to say the truth, but all very gentle).

The only ABWH studio album is now considered as a classic one.

The third part is "Who Was The First", it's only slightly different from the previous one, and also resumes the first section main theme adding a choral arrangement a some Renaissance era touches. The last section, "I'm Alive", is simply heartbreaking, with its well found melody, its brilliant arrangement and an outstanding vocal interpretation. Finally, this is one of the finest examples of mainly acoustic prog rock and a convincing proof of those four musicians' talent both in songwriting and performing. And YES, they were great even without Squire's devilish bass guitar.

Friday 4 September 2015

The Friends of Mr. Cairo (Jon & Vangelis, 1981)

Back to the so called progressive pop. If ever such a genre exists, it surely includes the whole discography of Jon & Vangelis, that's to say Jon Anderson and Vangelis famous joint venture. This track, in particular, is a lushing and captivating epic, not so far from a proper suite, spanning over 12 minutes and a series of sung themes, instrumental passages and soundtrack effects. This song is a tribute to the gangster movies, so that you should expect shooting guns, old car noises and dramatic dialogues. All these actually are there and with them, here you are Jon's splendid voice, Vangelis' electronic keys and, of course, a lot of good music.

It's the first album credited to Jon & Vangelis. Maybe the best one.

The strongest point, however, is the structure of the track, exploiting a very well found main theme gradually fading into a melodic final section, also featuring a beautiful melody and a rainy mood. The tempo changes and the cunning overdubbing are definitely prog, while the pulsing programmed rythms are there to remember we're in the '80s, after all!

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Ankaret (Kaipa, 1975)

The gracious baroque intro of "Ankaret" ("The Anchor" in English) seems to be the prelude to a classically inspired track. Well no, there's more than this. True, the intro theme comes back and its chamber music measure is one of the highlights of the song. But there are many others: rock, jazzy, choral, even pop moments delight the listener and show how diversified and unpredictable these Swedish musicians were in 1974... and all along their career.

I reckon this is one of the best debut albums ever...

Tomas Eriksson's bass guitar is everywhere and provides a pulsing background to Roine Stolt's guitar and, of course, to Hans Lundin's keyboards. The solos and the interplays between all the musicians are simply perfect and each change intriduces something new. So, if I'm fond of "Ankaret" it's just because it is a brilliant specimen of what progressive rock is in my very, very humble opinion. Waiting for yours...

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Susan Song (Le Stelle di Mario Schifano, 1967)

Le Stelle di Mario Schifano were a short lived band that definitely deserves a special place in my blog. Actually, some of the songs included in their debut LP anticipated the so called Italian prog and even some British prog elements. That's the case with "Susan Song" and its lunar mood: it seems to me like Le Orme five years before their "Collage" album, and it also reminds me of "Moonchild" by King Crimson... and please remember we're in 1967! Of course, there is a strong naive accent in "Susan Song", and the vocals aren't exacly good, but the soft, delicate and even acid atmosphere of this track strikes me.

The extra-rare original red vinyl pressing of the album.

There is also another prog element in this band: their artistic relashionsip with the painter Mario Schifano, who not only gave them his name but also suggested a series of live visual effects and, of course, provided the cover art of their unique studio album, featuring the stars ("Stelle" in Italian) that finished the band's name. They weren't successful in 1967, but we can listen to their songs with a renewed interest now we're... wise after the event!