Friday 30 December 2016

Mad Man's Worries (Mother's Love, 1967)

Lost somewhere in the dark land between proto-prog, blues, beat and psychedelic rock, Mother's Love were a challenging Dutch band whose music had acid edges and sweet acoustic parts. This track comes from their only album "Take One" and shows how eclectic their inspiration could be. The flute meets a liquid bass line and good vocal harmonies, while the song pattern includes some changes and an unusually shuffling sung theme.

How many musical treasures are the Sixties still hiding?

Floris Kolvenbach's vocals are among the highlights of "Mad Man's Worries", full of passionate and crazy-like passages and finally merging into the chaotic finale. One again, this is not exactly what we call prog rock, but it includes all that open minded approach that subsequently would provide the perfect culture medium for the new genre.

Thursday 29 December 2016

Starless (King Crimson, 1974)

Heartbreaking and double-faced. These are the only adjectives I can suggest right now to describe this song. Robert Fripp's guitar pierces the listener's heart with its bittersweet intro, soon reinforced by John Wetton's neat and warm vocals and, of course, by Mel Collins's guest sax. The beautiful melody flows like a majestic river, an emotional landslide.
...and if you badly like "Red", there is this 24-disc box set called
"The Road to Red" that could ineterest you (guitar not included).
Then the song changes and goes through an underground instrumental second part, dark and haunting, a challenging crescendo graced by Carl Palmer's creative percussions. A lancinating guitar and a jazzy section finish this long section and bring back the main theme twice: first in an acid (even pre-punk) version, then in fully symphonic garments. A feast to the ears and to the hearts, "Starless" is an outstanding way to close "Red", one of my favourite KC's albums ever and still stands up like a milestone in prog history.

Wednesday 28 December 2016

Travelling Man (M-Opus, 2015)

If Yes were born in Ireland and in the 2010s, they'd be called M-Opus. "Travelling Man" opens the long and diversified album "1975 Triptych", released in 2015 by this Dublin-based prog duo. The highly dynamic impact of this song, both in speed and incessant changes, is the first feature that litterally runs over the listener. The Yes inspiration is also patent, but not always and not too much: the vocal harmonies surely come from their famous model and so are the keyboard - bass guitar interplays, but there are more original solutions too, especially when it comes to electronic devices and rythm guitar riffs.

M-Opus are Jonathan Casey and Colin Sullivan.

This rather rough side of prog is perfectly mixed with more traditional progressions and the final result is that of a surprisingly new idea of classic prog, where the respect for the masters and the search for contemporary sounds get along very well. Just a final note: the 1975 in the album title means this CD music is inspired by that year's progressive releases. Mmm... I'm sure you'll be tempted to listen the whole album. Just do it, you won't be disappointed...

Tuesday 27 December 2016

The Silence of Our Wake (Barock Project, 2015)

This Italian band constantly improved since their first album in 2007 and I think their 2015 album, called "Skyline", actually represents a modern masterpiece on the jaunty side of prog. Take this "The Silence of Our Wake", for example, and see how they variate and mix all the traditional prog features into something captivating and new. Their love for classical measures remembers me of ELO, Superttramp and even Sebastian Hardie, but then you'll also find the band's rock side, the jazzy variations and - why not? - the pop temptations.

To top the cake, Paul Whitehead signed this inviting cover!

Sliding down a solid melody, these musicians surprise the listener with an unfailing set of inventions. This track is more coherent and even essential compared with some of the band's previous releases and if it confirms the fanciful and eclectic approach of Barock Project (well, they are barock, after all!), it shows a more careful balance, so that Luca Zabbini and his friends tame their wildest musical ideas and focus on the big picture instead. A very beautiful picture, I daresay.

Sunday 25 December 2016

The Light (Kansas, 2001)

Released as a digital single and also sdded as a bonus track to the Christmas album "Sounds Like Christmas" by The December People(see elsewhere in this blog), this song has a seasonal flavour, even if in a discreet way. It's a very good track, IMHO,  exploiting all the traditional features of Kansas, from Steve Walsh's powerful vocals to the melodic rock texture.

This single came one year after the reunion album
"Somewhere to Elsewhere"

This catchy and bombastic ballad has a warming and strong arrangement, including symphonic interludes and arena rock solutions. The lyrics about the search of the light is inspired to the three kings' journey, but fits very well into any spiritual quest. A different and proggy way to Christmas, and another living proof of this band's energy and inspiration.

Thursday 22 December 2016

Stagnation (Genesis, 1970)

"Trespass" surely is one of the most underrated albums in the history of prog. Rough and not especially well produced as it is, this pastoral beauty includes all the main features of the so called Genesis sound. "Stagnation", in particular, has the delicate and folky taste of Ant Phillips-inspired works and the diversified and eclectic structure of a true progressive masterpiece, set up by all the members of the band. The dark tones of this song match with the lyrics about a rich man (called Thomas S. Eidelberg) who decided to bury himself in an underground refuge and turned up as the only human survivor after an atomic catastrophe.

Inside the gatefold album cover... a musical Wonderland.

The song has a slightly crescendo structure, with  an acoustic and mellow first part and a more symphonic and lively second section. As a matter of fact, the successful mix of instruments is one of the highlights of "Stagnation", including flute, 12-string guitar, acoustic and electric guitar, a good choice of keyboards and some beautiful vocal harmonies. And - last but not least - this track also spreads a wondrous scent of old...

Sunday 18 December 2016

Höstsejd (Änglagård, 1994)

It sounds incredible for such a mixed and struggling fandom, but Änglagård are one of the rare bands every prog fan likes and many of them adore. That could be because of their undeniable links with the Golden Era prog rock, or maybe for their morn, heartbreaking atmospheres. Be as it may, this "Höstsejd" ("Autumn Rites") is one of their longest and most interesting songs, taken from the album "Epilog".

This was the band's second CD... their third work came 18 years later!

The ruling mood is that of nostalgy and quiet contemplation, the kind of nature-based atmosphere Swedish bands know how to conjure up and master so well. But there are also many beautiful changes both in volume and in tempo, taking advantage of the band's abundant choice of acoustic and electric instruments. A guest string trio adds the mellow touch an autumnal song surely needs. In short, another masterpiece from one of the most prominent contemporary prog bands.

Sunday 4 December 2016

Édentől keletre / East of Eden (Android, 2009)

Even if Hungarian band Android released their debut album in 2009, they have a long history and strong musical roots in the Seventies. The band's two keyboardists (Sándor Milesz and József Tőzsér) drive this title track, but likely the electric guitar solo by János Dudás is the highlight of "Édentől keletre" and gives a special, spiced taste to this maje instrumental work.

Essential and inspiring. A good cover art, IMHO.

That said, there are many other good moments during this 5:30 minutes song: the opening piano arpeggio, the following acid guitar work, the inspiring drums and - last but not least - the basic and effective theme. Anyway, the main reason why this track is worth our attention is the mix of sweetness and toughness it displays, exploiting both the smooth sound of neo-prog and the sharp touch of psych-prog era.

Saturday 19 November 2016

Swan Song (Rebekka, 1982)

Most of the progfans having listened to "Phoenix", Rebekka's first and best album, compare this band to Renaissance, especially because of their melodic taste and Marion Weldert's voice, not too different from Annie Haslam's. Bute there is an original touch in Rebekka we shouldn't underrate: they mixed soft atmospheres with European folk themes, acid touches and electronic devices.

After this one, the band released a second studio work in 1984.

As this opening song will prove, Rebekka's sound appeal is founded on this clever and pleasant blend of flavours, all well arranged in their symphonic frame. Useless to say, the elegant piano played by Peter Laubmeier provides a classical mood to "Swan Song" as its title requires, after all. Just another hidden pearl in the inexhaustible treasury of prog.

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Aloft (Van Der Graaf Generator, 2016)

When listening to old progressive heroes in their most recent incarnations we often tend to underestimate their newest songs, comparing them to their classic records (and - alas! - to our memories of youth). That would be unfair with this song, the opening track of "Do Not Disturb" album, released by VDGG in 2016. Not only the melodies are beautiful, but they're cleverly arranged and (useless to say) sung with all Peter Hammill's sensibility and deepness. 

"Do Not Disturb" is the thirteenth studio album by VDGG.

The instrumental parts are interestingly diversified, exploiting a good deal of sound effects and passing through many tempo changes. As usual with this band, there are no ornamental passages and all is strictly functional to another inner, emotional journey by this stunning trio. And if it sounds like the Seventies are back... well, that's even better!

Tuesday 15 November 2016

Siberia of Snow (Cinderella Search, 1993)

There's a melancholic and foggy vein streaming through Japanese prog since the late Seventies and still active today. Cinderella Search are among the most interesting examples of this mood. Their name - a reference to a Fish-era Marillion song - doesn't mean these musicians are a musical clone, as their music is definitely original, even if there is a general neo-prog and Scandinavian Progg atmosphere in it.

 Cinderella Search love Northern and misty moods...

This is the opening track of their debut self-named album, released in 1993 and perfectly illustrates the band's essential features: post-rock moods mixed with neo-prog arrangements, a beautiful violin (by Junko Minobe), a good deal of acoustic guitars backed with electric instruments and - last but not least - a taste for good melodies. I surely appreciate Cinderella Search for their open minded attitude, their delicate and never sweetish touch and their deep respect for the great history of prog rock.

Sunday 13 November 2016

La Messe en Ré (Wapassou, 1976)

Originally split on the two sides of the LP "Messe en ré mineur", this Mass in Dm is a real treat for any prog fan. First of all, this French band (from Strasbourg, I think) featured a highly creative keyboardist, Freddy Brua, one of the best forerunners of electronic progressive music, then Jacques Lichti's folkish violin adds a very special touch to the spacey background provided by Brua. I won't forget the rest of the band, of course, especially the acoustic guitar touches by Karin Nickerl and the surprisingly effective voice of Eurydice.

...And if you think this music's tricky, what about its cover art?

Eastern suggestions, krautrock beats, liturgical organs, dissonant chords, fully prog interplays, well it's not easy at all to put a label on such a magmatic music! For sure, its hypnotic flow take me far away from the daily life around me and creates colourful waves in my mind,opening windows on a bunch of parallel worlds. That's exactly what a prog composition should do, IMHO.

Friday 11 November 2016

L'evoluzione (Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, 1972)

This is no doubt one of the most important tracks from the Italian prog Golden Era and opens the second Banco's album, a concept based on Darwin's theories. As the title says it, this long song is about Evolution and it actually evolves from a dense and liquid intro to a bombastic, almost explosive central part introducing a melodic, highly structurate finale. Its 14 minutes or so of duration are full of warm touches, clever interplays, accelerations, slowdowns and assorted surprises.

"Darwin!" in a recent deluxe re-mastered edition.

The concept recurs in the lyrics spanning over the long pre-human era (thank you Mr. Di Giacomo!) and also in in the music, coming in a somewhat archaic flavour, based on the bass guitar irregular beat and on well found keyboard effects. Las but not least, this is one of those rare songs successfully combining instrumental skills and emotional power.

Saturday 5 November 2016

Catherine of Aragon (Rick Wakeman, 1973)

This is the opening track of "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" and one of the musical pillars of Wakeman's solo career. The resolute intro, the elaborated scales and the surprising melodic parts are some of the highlights of this instrumental, and not the only ones. The artistic depiction of Catherine's joyous and also spiritual temper is perfect: a living portrait come out from each note and each tempo change.

Catherine of Aragon was Henry's firts wife.

The impressive amount of keyboards employed by Rick is never too pompous and the other instruments (guitar, drums and a beautiful choir) add a slight and welcome "band-like" flavour. Lively and everchanging, "Catherine of Aragon" is one of the most beautiful keyboard-driven tracks ever (IMHO, of course) and rightly appears on most of Wakeman's live tracklists. Luckily.

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Garden of Frenzied Cortinas (Ariel, 1973)

Ariel were active between 1973 and 1977 and icluded Mike Rudd and Bill Putt, both of Spectrum fame (please read somehting about them elsewhere in this blog), and two of the best known musicians of the Australian scene, even if Rudd was actually born in New Zealand.  Among this track's best features you'll find an excellent bass line by Putt, two beautiful guitar solos by Tim Gaze - former a member of Tamam Shud - and a stunning vocal performance by Rudd.

"A Strange Fantastic Dream" was Ariel's debut album.

The track also includes a well found main theme and a series of tempo changes I appreciate very much, along with that peculiar mix of traditional melody and rock arrangements marking the entire Australian prog during the Seventies. "Garden of Frenzied Cortinas" is the longest track from the album "A Strange Fantastic Dream" and also the best one, IMHO, showing the great potential of Ariel, a potential barely exploited during their career.

Saturday 29 October 2016

Abstract Malady (Ajalon, 2009)

Ajalon are a very good American trio, playing glorious powerful prog with Christian lyrics and a Seventies mood. Listening to this "Abstract Malady", taken from the album "This Good Place", you'll be no surprised to know that Ajalon started their career signing with Rick Wakeman's label and set up collaborations with Neal Morse. Their flushing kind of music, full of changes and colourful interplays reminds me of Rick's and Neal's passionate compositions and surely include all the main features of the old good progmasters.

"The Good Place" was the third studio album by Ajalon.

A special mention goes to keyboardist and guitarist Randy George, equally at his ease when it comes to devilish solos or to relaxed, dreamy parts. This instrumental should describe  an inner malaise, a spiritual mal de vivre and I think it actually does so, lining up harsh and melancholic sections in a well built pattern. A beautiful specimen of prog, IMHO.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

1000... and more.

Yes, yesterday I posted the 1000th song on this little blog! I wanted to stop here, and after all 1000 is the perfect number to take a good rest. But there's too much prog out there and too much good songs are worth a presentation in my humble place. So I decided to go on and I hope you'll excuse my stubbornness. Of course, I'll slow down a little and I'll post on a less regular basis. You see, I'm old now, and I need some ease. All in all, thank you so much for being there, for listening to good ol' prog and for visiting this little place from time to time!

Monday 24 October 2016

Indonesia (Abbhama, 1978)

As this track clearly states, Abbhama come from Indonesia, and they were active during the late Seventies. They released just one album (originally on cassette format) called "Alam Raya" (meaning "The Universe"), then split up. Unfortunately, I daresay, because their sole work is one of the best Asian symphonic rock album, IMHO, with a slight folk taste and an excellent piano classically played by the band's leader and composer Iwan Madjid.

The CD release kept the original cassette artwork. Good idea.

This atmospheric song was conceived as an ode to the band's homeland, but it's no way popmpous, as it flows slowly on a dreamy and nostalgic tone. The winds (flute and oboe) and the native tongue lyrics add a recognizable and sweet accent to "Indonesia", while the background arrangements could be campared to Camel. A beautiful song from a well balanced album, finally released on CD in 2014 (better late than never!).

Saturday 22 October 2016

Pigs [Three Different Ones] (Pink Floyd, 1977)

"Pigs" still is a great favourite of Pink Floyd's fans all over the world. And I reckon they're right: not only this song has a special and immediately recognizable rythm, but the lyrics are among the most interesting ones by Roger Waters. As the sub-title says, the three stanzas of Pigs present three different powerful individuals, whose identities remain a matter of speculation, even if the third one is clearly identified as the English hyper-conservative  activist Mary Whitehouse.

The pig flying over Battersea power station...

Back to the  musical side, the main theme is catchty and well found, while the beautiful arrangements exploit some less usual devices in PF's typical instrumentation, such as a fretless bass guitar and a talk box. Two bass solos and a guitar solo also grace this track, and it's worth nothing that its live performances were usually longer than the album version, reaching some 18-20 minutes of duration. A true classic, always welcome in my playlist.

Sunday 16 October 2016

The Moon Hangs High / 月梦 (Tang Dynasty / 唐朝, 1992)

Tang Dynasty are rather on the metal side of Chinese rock, but they surely were influenced by progressive rock and never forget how melody and atmosphere are important when it comes to writing good songs. This one, for example, comes from the album "A Dream Return to Tang Dynasty" (well, the title itself seems interesting to me...) and belongs to their softer side. I like the way they take advantage of the classic song formula enriching it with instrumental bridges and a vocal emotional crescendo.

"A Dream Return..." was the debut album by Tang Dynasty.

Most of all, the themes are very well found and the Chinese lyrics add a special, unusual (for us) sound to the big picture. Kaiser Kuo's guitars and Ding Wu's vocals are the first contributions the listener appreciates in this track, but the entire band knows how to play without uselessly showing off their skills. After all, a beautiful song doesn't need too much tinsels...

Saturday 15 October 2016

Baghdad I, II & III (Ilvcia, 2013)

Spanish folk, oriental mood and symphonic patterns... can you imagine such a mix? Well, it actually exists and you'll listen to it on the album "In The Nature of Reason", released by Spanish band Ilvcia. "Baghdad", in particular, is a suite of three tracks spanning over some 18 minutes and lining up a first acoustic part called The Gates, a more progressive and lively central section titled The Market and a liquid, pulsing finale (The Suburbs).

"In The Nature of Reason" was the first album by Ilvcia.

This three part piece of music is difficult to label, but this is exactly what I expect in a progressive song. Sure, you'll recognize here many traditional prog elements, namely the guitar / keyboard interplays and the atmospheric passages, but there are also so many folk, pop, space rock and even psych ingredients in this spiced kind of music that make me feel strangely happy when I listen to it. A good omen, no doubt.

Friday 14 October 2016

Génesis (Vox Dei, 1971)

"Génesis" is the opening track of Vox Dei's first and likely best known album, titled "La Biblia" ("The Bible"), considered as the first Argentinian concept album ever. This band was founded in 1967 and started its discography in 1970, showing an eclectic approach to rock, a very prog attitude, I daresay. Multi-instrumentalist Ricardo Soulé is responsible for the lyrics and he was able to abridge the main books of the Bible into brief and effective stanzas, while the music - composed by the entire band - has a warm and melodic taste with some rocky moments.

"La Biblia" was the second studio album by Vox Dei.

"Génesis", in particular, features a beautiful bass guitar work and provides a soft and dense intro to the concept. Useless to say, the whole album deserves the progfans' attention, but "Génesis" is a very good way to get into Vox Dei's colourful and unpredictable world.

Saturday 8 October 2016

Four Horsemen (Aphrodite's Child, 1972)

A stunning track, this one is! It is taken from the album "666", a concept about the Book of Revelation released in 1972, when the band had actually already disbanded. Its structure is based on the strong contrast between quiet and loud passages and culminates with the final guitar solo (a very good one, IMHO), backed with Demis Roussos's fa-fa-fa vocal harmonies. As usual with this band, the song includes many diffferent - and even disparate - musical elements, but they all fit very well into a clever pattern.

The Four Horsemen as depicted by Viktor Vasnetsov in 1887.

This mix-matching skills probably are the best reason why Aphrodite's Child are so dear to the progfans worldwide. In addition to this, "Four Horsemen" displays a well found melody and a smart although close lyrical adaptation of the sixth chapter of its Biblical reference book. Useless to say, the Revelation will inspire other prog musicians, but this song and this album have a genuine flavour I still like.

Friday 7 October 2016

The Count of Tuscany (Dream Theater, 2009)

This is a magnificent example of Dream Theater's fully progressive songs and comes from the album "Black Clouds & Silver Linings". True, some distorted guitars and high volume passages are there, but never too intrusive and perfectly mixed with the underlying melodic lines. How beautiful this long track is! The vocal harmonies, the guitars, the unpredictable changes... everything is perfect!

"Black Clouds & Silver Linings" was DT's tenth studio work.

Most of all, this is the brainchild of a well organized band, where each member has its own place and no one uselessly shows off his skills. I like the devilish interplays, the heartbreaking openings on wider horizons and, of course, the atmospheric passages. In short, this is prog rock at its best and even the eccentric lyrics about the Count and his brother are fit into the big picture. Enjoy.

Thursday 6 October 2016

Metamorfosi (Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, 1972)

One of the most intricated songs from the Golden Era of Italian prog, a true classic. This track comes from Banco del Mutuo Soccorso's debut album and spans over ten minutes of classical, jazz and rock variations, including melodic passsages and experimental ones.

Original artwork, remix artwork and an early '70s BMS's line-up.

The magic fusion of catchy pastoral tunes, devilish improvisation-like passages, symphonic interludes and abrupt changes makes of "Metamorfosi" one of the proggest tracks ever. The title says it all: this song is a long and enchanting musical metamorphosis, where the main theme goes through a series of reincarnations, culminating with the sung section and the bombastic finale. What else could a poor progfan looking for?

Tuesday 4 October 2016

You (Tony Banks, 1979)

Tony Banks's solo career somehow disappointed the musician himself, who surely deserved more. That said, Banks released some great songs as a solo artist and this "You", taken from his debut album "A Curious Feeling", is one of his best compositions ever, IMHO. The melody is simply beautiful, so sweet and sad, and the arrangement - liquid and suspended between pop tempations and prog roots - magnifies it.

"A Curious Feeling" was remixed and re-released in 2008.

The keyboard solo is obviously a highlight of "You" (and there's a 7/8 passage too!), but the entire track has a magic and impalpable mood I admire each time I listen to it. Another strong point here is the voice of the late Kim Beacon of String Driven Thing fame, so  warm and with the right folkish mood in it. This song is just another good reason to rediscover and rightly value a musician to which we owe so much.

Wednesday 28 September 2016

The Cathedral (Pär Lindh Project, 1994)

Pär Lindh is no doubt one of the most gifted keyboardists of the contemporary progressive rock scene and an excellent composer too, that's why his Project has so many admirers worldwide. "The Cathedral" is an epic coming from the band's debut album. Yes, I consider "Gothic Impressions" as a band's brainchild, even if Pär Lindh's influence is everywhere. Actually, the skilled musicians he gathered for such a project deserve it: you'll find Ralf Glasz's unique voice, for example, and also  Björn Johansson's classical guitar, let alone Anna Holmgren's flute.

"Gothic Impressions" also feature a cameo by Roine Stolt.

The magic of "The Cathedral" mainly resides, OMHO, in its going in and out of its classical, medieval mood. Chuurch organ's solos and bombastic symphonic rock sections follow one another lining up a series of stunning changes. Please don't forget the rythm section, providing blazing lava to the explosive big picture. Last but not least, some of the themes and riffs are so well found that they got indelebly carved into the the listener's mind. Listen to this track, my friends, and let me know...

Monday 26 September 2016

Mare Tenebris (Parthenon, 2005)

This is the title track of a rather obscure prog album from Venezuela, released by a band born in the late Seventies. A series of line-up changes and hiatuses prevented the band from starting an official discography until 2005, but when their debut album finally came, it was a very good one. This track will show you how skilled these musicians are and how rich and diversified their ideas were in CD.

Also the CD packaging has a  weird and tempting look...

The texture of this composition surely reminds me of ELP and other powerful prog bands, but also the quietest moments are very good and highly atmospheric, including clever keyboard and guitar interplays and a brilliant drumming. Drummer Juan Carlos Ballesta and keyboardist Robert Santamaria can be considered as the backbone of this reincarnation of Parthenon and the final result is an exciting symphonic rock I actually recommend to you all.

Sunday 25 September 2016

Going Away (SBB, 1977)

This is the first suite from the album "Follow My Dream", released in 1977 by Polish band SBB. It is divided into four parts (Freedom with Us, 3rd Reanimation, Going Away and (Żywiec) Mountain Melody) and spans over 24 minutes of enjoyable, fluid and coherent music. Each part could be considered as a stand alone song and each one's got its own distinctive mood, even if the listener can only get the whole potential of this track by listening it in its entirety.
"Follow My Dream" was the sixth studio album by SBB.

The liquid and poppish Freedom with Us is followed by the experimental, jazzy and instrumental 3rd Reanimation, while Going Away has an ethereal and even spacey atmosphere introducing a majestic and fully symphonic section. The final part, (Żywiec) Mountain Melody begins with jazzy rythms, then goes electronic and somehow krautrock. As you can see, there is something for everyone and still the suite has its own peculiar flavour.

Saturday 24 September 2016

Hallogallo (Neu!, 1972)

Take a walk on the karautrock side, my dear friends, and listen to this "Hallogallo" by Neu!, one of the most uncompromising bands from the German rock scene during the Golden Years. You'll find the industrial sounds of Düsseldorf, but also the moder kind of poetry these musicians were able to create. Rother and Dinger fly high over their pulsing ground and draw an abstract and fascinating picture full of acid patches and fluorescent zigzags. 

"Neu!" was the first album by this seminal German duo.

Unlike many other contemporary acts, however, Neu! never loose the balance between experimental sounds and enjoyable music, so that all listeners will find their own cup of tea in "Hallogallo". Please note that this song is one of the earliest examples of motorik beat, the peculiar 4/4 relentless and mid-tempo beat that many krautrock bands will adopt during the years. Enjoy.

Sunday 18 September 2016

Grand Hotel (Procol Harum, 1973)

I confess I'm always been partial to the majestic melody of this Procol Harum's song and to its classically-sounding arrangements. It opens the 1973 album bearing the same name and it's difficult to imagine a best way to start a collection of good songs. IMHO, this is an underrated and influential song: not only it inspired (as they say) Douglas Adams's SF novel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, but it opened the decadent and magniloquent way the likes of Queen and Supertramp will soon follow.

Welcome to the Grand Hotel, my friends!

Everything is in tune here, from the brilliant grand piano to the chamber orchestra interlude and from the lyrics about dinners at Hotel Ritz and Hotel Grande to the posh cover art, featuring the band in their most elegant tail-coats in front of a sumptuous building. Aristocratic, that's the word.

Saturday 17 September 2016

Treebird (Sky Architect, 2011)

Opening the album "A Dying Man's Hymn", this track is one of the most interesting ones from this Rotterdam based band. After a wall of sound intro (just a minute or so), the song features a liquid and atmospheric guitar solo, reminding me of spacey atmospheres.  The voicals come in on this beautiful background along with vintage keyboards, giving a deeper landscape to the song. And I also recommend the instrumental finale, adding some lively interplays and a lighter mood. 

 This is the second studio album by Sky Architect.

It's a sweet but never sweetish mood, a delicate gateway into a good album and also a clever mix of old and new prog. Of course it isn't a tuning point in the history of rock, but if ever you're looking for 9 minutes of relaxing prog, this is your song.

Friday 16 September 2016

What Love [Suite] (The Collectors, 1968)

Those who love proto-prog bands and tracks will be glad to find here one of the earliest suites featuring a distinctive progressive flavour: "What Love" by Canadian band The Collectors. Coming from the North-American psych scene, these Vancouver-based musicians filled the entire B-side of their debut album with a diversified and colourful 19 minutes suite, featuring ethnic instruments, arcane vocal harmonies, classical influences, folk atmospheres, R & B echoes and pastoral themes.

The Collectors only released two albums, both in the late '60s.

The spiritual side of the Seventies surely inspires some of the moods in this song, but its best virtue is, IMHO, the stong and coherent plot in which so many different ideas are cleverly framed. I rarely listened to such a rich and solid architecture in a '60s long track. In this sense, I rarely listened to a proggest song from that era, no matter what the story and the genre label of The Collectors were. Good, good music this is!

Wednesday 14 September 2016

Elephant (Tame Impala, 2012)

Even if Aussi Tame Impala are considered as part of the 2010s psych wave, their open minded approach to rock and pop music includes many prog elements, ss this "Elephant", taken from the album "Lonerism" will easily prove. The electronic.driven and vintage-sounding keyboard progressions all through the second half of the song are among the proggest music from Oceania in recent years. 
"Elephant" was also released as a 12" single.
Well, vintage sounds do require a vintage format, what else?
There's a proto-prog scent here, and even an Italian prog taste building up a succulent savoury pie. I also like the way these musicians mix catchy tunes, Floydian bluesy moods and lysergic flashes from the Seventies. If progressive rock is mixing and matching musical sources, Tame Impala surely fit into this blog.

Thursday 8 September 2016

Locomotive Breath (Jethro Tull, 1971)

I wonder why this song wasn't in my blog long before this post, but, well, now it is here. "Locomotive Breath" is a Jethro classic and a live favourite of them, including many musical elements linked to their blues side, but also a rich, unpredictable, diversified srtructure that sounds definitely prog. Ian Anderson's flute is of course the most impressive feature of the track, so impressive that one could forget all its other stunning virtues.

"Locomotive Breath" was also the B-side of "Hymn 43" single.
I won't, and I'm glad to remember the rythm section building up a devilish background, inspired by a locomotive's noise, Ian's strong vocal performance, the rough guitar riffs, and - last but not least - the piano, softly introducing the song, then providing its own cadence to the final section. And I won't forget the lyrics, comparing the unstoppable locomotive to human lives. Lives that can't be fully enjoyed, because the train won't stop going, no way to slow down...

Saturday 3 September 2016

Čím je svět můj (Progres 2, 1982)

This is an excellent prog rock track from the '80s, but please note Progres 2 actually were active also during the '70s in the Czech musical scene (they're from Brno, more exactly). This track features a very good mix of mainstream rock, progressive rock and assorted electronic sounds from the '80s. It's the closing track from the double album "Třetí kniha džunglí", also released in English as "The Third Book of The Jungle".

"Třetí kniha džunglí" was the fourth album by Progres 2.

As a matter of fact, Progres 2 love Kipling's literary masterpiece, as they had already written an album titled "Barnodaj – Mauglí" on the same subject. I like the dynamic and everchanging mood of "Čím je svět můj" (titled in Englis "What My World Really Is") and especially the guitars, ruling most of the instrumental parts. As you could expect from a closing epic, the volume is very high and there are some majestic and noisy walls of sound throughout the song. But, well, this is prog rock, baby!

Monday 29 August 2016

Equatorial Rain (Ache, 1971)

Taken from the band's second album "Green Man", this "Equatorial Rain" combines Hammond-driven early prog and electronic effects in an arcane, rather dark song. The intro is based on rain effects and keyboards, while Torsten Olafsson's voice draws nocturnal landscapes. Then the tempo rises up and a Hammond plus drumming break comes in, introducing a lively, even joyous section à la The Nice. 

"Green Man" also exists on CD, including Ache's debut album.

Then, "Equatorial Rain" features some beautiful electric guitar / keboard interplays, just before the final reprise of the opening mysterious atmosphere. Seven minutes of beautiful progressive rock, IMHO, cleverly structured on a four movements pattern, a coherent and diversified architecture showing once again how great Ache were. They're surely worth a wider attention from my progressive friends over there.

Sunday 28 August 2016

In The Name of God (Aragon, 2004)

I do think Aragon are an underrated band. These Australian musicians (all born in different European countries) surely like traditional neo-prog atmospheres and melodic songs, but they also know how to write and perform excellent songs, like this "In The Name of God", taken from their 2004 album "The Angels Tear". The acoustic first half is a beautiful and peaceful moment, based on warm and charming chords. The keyboards rise up slowly and the song gets deeper and depper, until the guitars come in for the "rock break".

"The Angels Tear" was the sixth album by Aragon.

The final section is more diversified, but still is down tempo and melodic, with an acid twist here and there. Really, I find  here some 9 minutes of musical pleasure, crowned with the sax solo between minute 7.30 and 8.00... so good! And what about the final gilmour-esque guitar/sax interplay? Well, it tells me: "quick, play this once more!" I'll surely obey.

Monday 22 August 2016

Melancholy Man (The Moody Blues, 1970)

Another Mike Pinder's melancholy (yes, yes, it's in the title) and inner song. This one comes from "A Question of Balance" album, likely one of the rockiest works by The Moody Blues, still I couldn't imagine a dreamier and more atmospheric track. The melody is simply perfect, and the rich arrangements never go too sweet, opening a distant horizon to the listener's ears. Asusual with The MB, there's a good deal of overdubbing and assorted effects, but such an elaborated studio work never spoils the magic the band build up in a few more than five minutes.

The Moody Blues liket to explore cosmic paths, as you can see here.

"Melancholy Man" also has a beautiful set of lyrics, an awesome depiction of man's situation between the solid ground and the infinite sky. There's a sense of loneliness balanced (yes, the allbum's title, this time...) by the wonder inspired by the cosmic architecture. Ten out of ten, I daresay.

Saturday 20 August 2016

Sparkling / 花火 (Fragile, 2010)

Chinese rock scene specialises more and more in post-rock acts, and some of them show many interesting progressive sides. This is the case with Fragile (well, the name isn't necessarily inspired by the Yes album...), a band that surely knows how to create delicate atmospheres, unpredictable changes and slow, majestic crescendos. "Sparkling" comes from the debut EP of Fragile, called "White Shadows" and is a charming instrumental, based on a well found series of chords and including some delicious breaks and a mandolin-like electric guitar à la Steven Wilson.

As many other young bands, Fragile debuted via Bandcamp site.

This kind of music is somehow dangerous as it can easily slip into a mere ambient sound, but Fragile are clever enough to skip such a risk, thanks to a good deal of musical diversions along the usual post-rock path. They like coherent tracks, but they know that coherence doesn't mean boredom. Hope to listen more from these Hong Kong musicians.

Friday 19 August 2016

El Hijo del Sol (El Polen, 1973)

When it comes to acoustic folk-rock with proggy elements, it is difficult to find a better band than El Polen. These Peruvian musicians had a suprisingly large choice of arrangements and a wide range of instruments, mostly coming from their National tradition, but also from other, unexpected cultures. In spite of their strong Andean roots and of their acoustic set, El Polen also are a proper rock band, and exploit in a very clever way some of the main features of prog: tempo changes, instrument interplays and enthralling solos.

"Fuera de la ciudad" was the second album by El Polen.

Sure, all these solutions also exist in traditional music throughout the planet, but their combination in a single everchanging (and rather long) song is a Seventies innovation. So, "El Hijo del Sol" is a kind of suite, lining up different themes and different traditions, especially the South-American and the Far-Eastern ones. Not a common mix, believe me.

Thursday 18 August 2016

Египтянин / Egiptyanin (Пикник / Picnic, 2001)

Picnic (in Russian, Пикник) surely are one of the most eccentric and crossover bands from Eastern Europe. Their sound ranges between space rock and folk, including synth rock and many traditionally prog features.This is the title track from their eleventh studio album, obviously dedicated to the Ancient Egypt, one of the band's favourite topics.

This cover art reveals the ironic side of Picnic's songs.

The song has a rather traditional structure, a dreamy, catchy slow tempo ballad with a Floydian finale, where Edmund Shklyarskiy's guitar flies high above the listener. He even creates for this song a new instrument he calls novoegyptian to add a bit of visual show to the live performances. What I especially like in Picnic is the way they mix different elements to build up an evocative, arcane sound that also includes the right dose of irony. A theatrical way to (prog) rock Picnic never gave up during their long and everchanging career.

Tuesday 16 August 2016

Into The Lens [I Am A Camera] (Yes, 1980)

As you might have read in other posts from my blog, "Drama" is an album I like very much, in spite of its weird Buggles  + Yes line up. More than this, "Into The Lens" actually was a fully-Buggles song (the duo also was working on it when they joined their new band and also released it in 1981 as "I Am A Camera"). To transform a synthpop tune in a progressive rock track was a challenge Yes accepted and won. The song has a an epic flavour, even if its "plastic" and 80s side isn't completely abandoned. Chris Squire provides the backbone for this version and a series of interplays, changes and vocal harmonies are spread throughout the song.

A short-lived line up, still responsible for an excellent album. 

Of course, the melody was a good one in the first place and the tricky arrangement only enhances it and gives to it the special symphonic rock touch that we all know and love. I also like the pleasant contrast between the tight and rythm-based verse and the wide open, full-bodied chorus, something that Downes had in common with the Yes tradition. Still an excellent track this one, and always worth one more listening.

Saturday 13 August 2016

Equinoxe Part 3 (Jean-Michel Jarre, 1978)

Following the planetary success of the album "Oxygène", Jarre released "Equinoxe" two years later and also gained a huge international acclaim. This LP described a day in the life of the industrial world based humans and the two sides of the original vinyl had the same duration time, so that the chosen day had to be an equinox (we still don't know if it is a spring or an autumn one...).

As for "Oxygène", Michel Granger signed the album cover art.
That said, this third part of Jarre's work should describe the busy morning, and it actually has a fast tempo and hypnotic rythm. When the main theme comes in, it sounds like a hundred typing machines or a downtown bus queue, still it is so well found and so well placed that one loves even the rush hour. Then here you are a hard electronic passage, kind of a robot dance, followed by the theme reprise. An exciting track, IMHO, full of daily echoes and memorable sounds. Enjoy.

Monday 8 August 2016

Coming Around (The Third Ending, 2006)

Here you are another clever band, a Tasmanian one, playing what the papers call "modern prog", whatever that means. I better like to call it prog, as our genre hates barriers and labels. The Third Ending  surely mix some old and beloved sounds and many contemporary ones, as this melodic song will prove. "Coming Around", taken from the band's self-titled debut album, sounds like a soft rock piece, but with a deeper, introspective twist.

I also like the cover art The Third Ending chose for their first CD.

The theme is well found and well performed (Nick Storr is what I call a gifted singer), and the background sounds are  rich, full-bodied but never pompous, and a fine guitar solo by Andrew Curtis also graces the song. Even if the track is catchy and rather traditional in its pattern, you'll find many smart gimmicks, and even some welcome references to the past glory of rock and prog rock. In short, a pleasant and beautifully packed song, something I'll always ask for. Go on, my Aussie friends!

Friday 5 August 2016

Negru Vodă (Transsylvania Phoenix, 1972)

Transsylvania Phoenix (or simply Phoenix) were a stunning crossover band born in Romania during the early '60s and always ready to explore new musical paths. This long track titled "Negru Vodă" (a legendary Romanian king) has some hard rock solos, a symphonic architecture, many folk references, a strong bluesy foundation and a lot of other good things in it. It comes from "Cei ce ne-au dat nume" ("Those who have given us names", more or less), the first full-length LP by the band, folllowing a long series of singles and EPs.

This album also included a suite dealing with the four seasons.
Highly recommended too.

The track filled the third side of the original double album. The folkish violin (then guitar) riff is a catchy one, but the variations and the sung melodies are also worth our attention and so are the vocal improvisations. When I come across such interesting and beautiful songs coming from all the Countries that usually have a reduced impact on the international rock scene, I wonder how many other masterpieces we didn't even hear of...

Thursday 4 August 2016

Poor Man's Moody Blues (Barclay James Harvest, 1977)

There's a funny story behind this beautiful melodic song by Barclay James Harvest. The specialised press never loved the band, as you may know, and a journalist went as far as to describe BJH "poor man's Moody Blues". Guitarist John Lees was vexed and wrote this song, arranging it as a Moody Blues' track, and even naming it after the reviewer's comparison. His reply is more convincing because of the beauty of the track.

"Gone to Earth" was the eighth studio album by BJH.

The pastoral melody is calm and deep, the arrangements quote MB's "Nights in White Satin" (also in this blog) with good taste and the instrumental sections are the proggest thing BJH made in "Gone to Earth" album. The symphonic finale is pleasant and slightly ironic. For sure, the entire song is a patent and proud display of what BJH were worth, beyond any high-brow prejudices. Useless to say, we still listen to this song while we forgot the arrogant reviewer's name.

Wednesday 3 August 2016

Movement for The Common Man (Styx, 1972)

ELP were not the only band fascinated by Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for The Common Man", a brass and percussion piece of music written in 1942. Also Styx included in their debut album a four sections mini-suite, including Copland's composition as the third movement. Styx created a rather strange and highly interesting song, based on a composite pattern and lining up four very different moments, apparently ill-matched, but actually forming a pleasant and coherent musical fresco

The "Movement" suite opens beautifully this album.

The mainstream rock elements are set up as the core of a broad and brave exploration of so many faces of musical culture as it was established in the early Seventies. You'll find the classical side, the folk tempations, the USA Southern rock influence, the pop canons and so on. Such a manifold recipe is wisely cooked by Styx, balancing rock riffs, dreamy melodies and mid-tempo ballads... so enjoy your meal... pardon, I meant your music!

Tuesday 2 August 2016

The Wood of Tales (Malibran, 1990)

This is exactly what you'd expect from an Italian prog band's track: fairy tales, acoustic instruments, mellow melodies, piano touches and, of course, a good mix of Mediterranean sunsets and Celtic mists. Please don't think I'm trying to underrate Malibran, 'cause I love their music. I sometimes need some labels to start an introduction, that's all. "The Wood of Tales" is a perfect mix of unpredictable changes and familiar sounds, an excellent instrumental full of magic and emotions.

The artwork says it all... doesn't it?

All the instruments add their special touch to the big picture, and especially the dreamy electric guitars (yes, there are two guitarists!) and the flute. The vintage mood is obviously strong, and so are the Golden Era references, but there are many modern settings I appreciate more and more each time I listen to this track. And each time I do so, I wonder how a debuting band could be so mature and well-balanced.

Monday 1 August 2016

Filium ex machina (Enfant, 2012)

This heavy prog band from Bolivia was basically a trio when they released this track (Horus Set, Luis Aranda and Bernardo Paz), but with a good deal of guest musicians to set up a rich and diversified sound. This song is the title track of the band's debut album called "Filium.Ex.Machina" and provides a strong wall of sound with lighter interludes and a lot of good arrangements.

The album also includes an acoustic version of this song.
The lyrics in Spanish add a colourful flavour to the big picture, and so do the vague references to King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator. It's a coherent and thick kind of prog rock, full of passionate vocals and experimental twists, but always aware of the importance of communicating visions and emotions to the listeners. The open line-up of Enfant could be a bonus resource for the band or maybe an Achille's heel, depending on their future choices. Let's hope for the best.