Monday 29 February 2016

In This Puzzled Roundabout (Arlekin, 2014)

Ok, ok... I can hear some of you saying this is just another Fish-era Marillion clone. But, you see, it happens I like Fish-era Marillion and it also happens this Ukrainian band has a rather original approach to neo-prog, a darker mood and a well balanced sound. Igor Sidorenko is the man behind Arlekin (that's actually a one-man band) and he's got a long, successful experience when it comes to prog rock (Stoned Jesus are the best known band he played in). That's why he knows how to build up a 15 minute epic skipping boredom and mannerism.

The making of this album was rather long, starting in 2008.

"In This Puzzled Roundabout", taken from the album "Disguise Serenades", includes most of my favourite elements: rythm and mood changes, powerful and sensitive vocals, well found and well performed instrumental parts and - most of all - beautiful melodies. Surre, you'll find here many musical solutions coming from British (and Polish) neo-prog bands, but the track is nonetheless an enjoyable and original one, adding to the usual ingredients a fully homemade mixed spice tablespoon. Just get into this puzzled world...

Sunday 28 February 2016

Rondo (The Nice, 1967)

"Rondo" is one of the most celebrated tracks from "The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack", the debut album by The Nice. Packed with jazz and classical quotes (Dave Brubeck is credited as one of the authors, Bach is still waiting...), "Rondo" will go into many variations during The Nice's and Emerson's career and also is one of the earliest prog pearls ever. The devilish rythm of this instrumental actually fits into lavish rock shows and the foursome performance surely was a riveting one.

The guys were K. Emerson, L. Jackson, D. O' List & B. Davison.
In short... Emerlist Davjack!
What should I choose as my favourite highlights? The guitar solo? Emerson's Hammond? The rythmic cavalcade? The coherent and colourful architecture? Or maybe the short church organ tribute to JSB? That's an impossible choice, IMHO: one has to take it or leave it as it is. I take it, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Saturday 27 February 2016

Soil Festivities (Vangelis, 1984)

Ευάγγελος Οδυσσέας Παπαθανασίου is so well known and appreciated worldwide that he doesn't need a proper presentation here. His original soundtracks are likely to be the highlights of his career, but this Greek multi-instrumentalist and composer has a highly diversified career, including more unpredictable and experimental albums. This is the case with "Soil Festivities", featuring a sole track, divided into five movements.

"Soil Festivities" was the 19th studio solo work by Vangelis.

We're mid-way between ambient and electronic prog, with symphonic parts (especially the last movement), relaxing themes and even krautrock echoes. The pulsating synths, the real life effects and the rapid, beating sounds describe the invisible and frantic life of the tiny inhabitants of the soil during a rainy day. It's something completely different from the airy melodies of Vangelis' most famous tracks, but it's also an intriguing, inner exploration into the fresh earth and the darkest corners of human souls.

Thursday 25 February 2016

L'Ultima Ora e Ode a J. Hendrix (The Trip, 1971)

The Trip were (better: are, as they came back in 2010) one of the most intriguing Italian prog rock bands and released a pair of excellent albums, one of which was titled "Caronte", that's to say Charon, the ferryman that in Greek mythology carries the newly deceased's souls across the rivers dividing the world of the living and the other world. The title of this song includes anothere reference to death, as "L'ultima ora" means "The Last Hour", while the rest of the song title obviously pays tribute to Jimi Hendrix. 

"Caronte" was the second studio album by The Trip.

This epic has a strong classical taste, but also features soul elements and quotes some Jimi's passages. That said, the plot of this song is well organized and highly diversified, lining up dark atmospheres, guitar solos and lively interplays. The melodies are very well written and the arrangements provide the final touch. A church organ closes it all... and it surely matches with the theme!

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Tombeau de Cherdak (Olive Mess, 2008)

This band from Latvia knows how to set up experimental and intrivated tracks that also have the power to capture the listener's attention, mixing tricky embroideries and charming moods, in the wake of King Crimson, but with an original and interesting approach. "Tombeau de Cherdak" also reminds me of Magma, especially when the vocals come in, but the acoustic guitar touches create a brand new atmosphere, adding some Medieval atmospheres I like very much. 

"Cherdak" was the second studio album by Olive Mess.

So, this is a highly diversified track, ranging from dissonant or free-jazz parts to sweet, fully traditional melodies and from intellectual solutions to moving sketches. The whole "Cherdak" album is packed with unpredictable changes and riveting passages, but I think this song is a very good way to get started with Olive Mess. By the way, the band is named after the French composer Olivier Messiaen. Not for the masses, but...

Monday 22 February 2016

Long Goodbyes (Camel, 1984)

This song comes from the album "Stationary Traveller", released in 1984 and actually features one of the most beautiful melodies I've ever listened to in a Camel track. More than this, the 12 string guitar leading the verse and the melancholy  keyboards accompanying the chorus are heartbreaking IMHO. Of course, an electric guitar solo finishes this composition with all Mr. Latimer's well known charms.

This track was  a 7" single in Germany b/w "Waltzing Frauleins".
The traditional song scheme is perfectly exploited by its authors Latimer and Hoover, and the listener is surrounded by sweet and warm moods, delighted by sensible volume changes, intrigued by the Berlin Wall-themed lyrics, finally pampered with all the familiar and awaited sounds. Strange, even incredible, but that's all I need when I put a Camel record into my playlist.

Sunday 21 February 2016

Посещение / The Visit (7 Ocean, 2008)

Among the many keyboard-oriented bands from Eastern Europe, 7 Ocean surely deserve our attention. Coming from Belarus, these musicians were already active during the '80s, then came back and started a proper discography in 2008. Their first album, called "Таинственная раса странных существ" (or "The Mysterious Race of Strange Entities") starts with this track, a very diversified and theatrically sung one, where leader and keyboardist Alexander Eletsky shows all his talents.

"7 Ocean" are also known as "Seventh Ocean".

I like the tempo changes, the mellow themes and the old fashioned moods they display during this epic. Nothing really new, maybe, especially if you listened to some Eloy albums, but all 7 Ocean do is well found, well performed and even better set up. They probably couldn't afford a first rate production, still their music has a peculiar pathos and a recognizable trademark. That's why I put this song here, hoping some will like it the way I do.

Saturday 20 February 2016

Mikä aamu (Scapa Flow, 1980)

Scapa Flow were a short lived Finnish band that only released one charming album in 1980, titled "Uuteen aikaan" (taht's "A New Era" in English). Packed with sweet melodies and enthralling interplays, this record sounds like Jethro Tull meet Genesis and has a Northern melancholy bonus touch. "Mikä aamu" is a track that fully represents the gentle and folkish mix the band created and performed.

The band members were just three, plus three guest musicians.

The flute plays a central role, but all the instruments add their strong and lively contribution to a magic and never trivial song. And as  the singer employs the band's native language, the final effect is even more original and genuine. Fairy, yes, but not childish at all. Gentle, that's for sure, but never sweetish nor monotone. What else do you need to get a try?

Wednesday 17 February 2016

Ladies of The Night (Airlord, 1977)

Musical life wasn't easy for prog bands in New Zealand back in the mid-Seventies. That's why Airlord had to move to Australia and never released a second work after their intriguing "Clockwork Revenge" album. "Ladies of The Night" is a fully progressive and highly diversified epic, including all the main elements I like in such a song. First of all, there's a very good songwriting, that's to say beautiful melodies and well found variations.

This band split up in 1978 and never re-united, as far as I know.

Then, a special mention goes to the arrangements, ranging from atmospheric passages to memorable solo guitars. The symphonic structure of the track is cleverly empowered with arena rock sounds, Genesis-like vocals and - last but not least - a big deal of enthusiasm. True, the fantasy concept about weird toys and wicked clockworks fighting their human masters is beyond me, but this is part of the game, after all!

Monday 15 February 2016

Minstrel in The Gallery (Jethro Tull, 1975)

When it comes to folk / rock / classical cohabitation, Jethro Tull deserve our greatest respect and our highest gratitude. "Minstrel in The Gallery", for example, is a well mixed and even better set up specimen of crossover song, starting like a Tudor era piece of music - including minstrels and dance room galleries - then going heavy and fully rock (Mr. Barre is simply great here) and finally drawing all the baroque'n'roll style and the flute features we love. 

An edited version of this painting, "Twelfth Night Revels in the Great Hall, 
Haddon Hall, Derbyshire", by Joseph Nash (1838) was adopted for the cover art.
This dynamic profile and the manifold structure of the track are especially admirable in the album version, lasting more than 8 minutes. Useless to say, the minstrel of the song was going to get the alter ego of Ian Anderson since the first live performance of the track... for sure, my favourite mistrel ever!

Sunday 14 February 2016

Armina (Som Imaginário, 1973)

Born as a backing band to Brazilian singer Milton Nascimento, Som Imaginário soon began their own career, including at least one excellent prog rock release, the album bearing the fierce title "Matança do porco" (that's "Pig Slaughter" in English...). This actually stands as a progressive highlight in Bazilian '70s rock scene. The song "Armina" perfectly represents the beautiful fusion of jazz, classic and pop-rock elements the band chose as their musical trademark.

This progressive release was the third album by Som Imaginário.

Full-bodied passages and intimistic piano sections follow one another in a colourful and enthralling plot, where acid guitars, pulsing rythms and essential keyboards act as one. It is a highly original kind of music, with no predominant inspirations, and open to many different solutions and even to conflicting moods. But as Brazilian musicians rarely go too experimental, although unusual and new, this instrumental is still a fully enjoyable piece of music!

Friday 12 February 2016

Mountains (Socrates, 1976)

A stunning closing track this "Mountains" is! Socrates (previously named Socrates Drank The Comium) released their "Phos" album in 1976, but they actually recorded it in 1975 with Vangelis' helping hand (and even more than a single hand...). I think such a record can still be considered as a masterpiece. This song in particular - starting like a Fleetwood Mac track, then passing through less common phases and emotions, proves how good this band is when it comes to mix and shake different ingredients and manifold inspirations.

"Phos" was the first album credited to the band as "Socrates"

Nonetheless, their final product is as coherent and original as a prog piece of music can be. The mid-folk and mid-classically-driven acoustic guitar is one of the highlights of "Mountains", and it offers the most adventurous solo on a spacey and essential  background, but I couldn't forget the highly creative drumming, creating a weird atmosphere and sounding so good and so Seventies!

Thursday 11 February 2016

Natt (Thule, 1990)

This is the title track of the second album by Norwegian band Thule. Even if you can pick up here and then some hints from older prog acts, I think it'a a fully original kind of music with dark and energetic moments, many changes - especially mood changes - and aggressive mother tongue vocals. The final effect is that of a sharp and eclectic prog, suspended between symphonic elements and experimental sounds à la Magma.

Even the cover art has an original taste of its own...

The dynamic and intricate interplays support an arcane, even scary  atmosphere, so far from many Scandinavian pale and dreamy prog tracks. Surely an appropriate way to open an album and to capture the listener's attention. That said, the whole CD is worth a keen listening, IMHO. By the way, "Natt" means "Night" in English and I think it's a proper title for such a murky song!

Wednesday 10 February 2016

La Sagrada Familia (The Alan Parsons Project, 1987)

"La Sagrada Familia" is the opening epic of "Gaudi", the last official album by APP, as the following release "Freudiana" was never credited to the Project. It's a track full of dark grandeur and of special effects. Describing Gaudi's greatest architectural achievement, this song also features excellent melodies and a powerful orchestra directed as usual by Andrew Powell. John Miles' voice perfectly fits into this mood, adding its clear and strong accent to the big picture. 

"Gaudi" was the tenth studio album by The APP.
Somehow this song (and most of the album) mark a return to what some call prog pop, after a pair of song-driven albums... and as you can imagine, I welcomed back home both Parsons and Woolfson. Some of the instrumental bridges in "La Sagrada Familia" are simply thrilling and the manifold arrangements provide all the rest... so sad the band was going to stop!

Monday 8 February 2016

Crowded Corridors (Iamthemorning, 2014)

K-scope records are gathering an excellent bunch of artists around Steven Wilson's multiple projects and this Russian duo is one of their most interesting 2010s acts. Marjana Semkina has a beautiful voice and knows how to intertrwine notes and emotions, while Gleb Kolyadin's piano and keyboards are perfect when it comes to inner and sensitive musical worlds. "Crowded Corridors", taken from the album "Belighted", is a calm but never boring song, drawing delicate and intense watercolours describing the deepest twists of a human soul.

I really like cover arts perfectly matching with the music inside...

Some cultivated reviewers call this kind of music Chamber Prog Rock, but whatever the label they choose, I love the way Iamthemorning change deep and invisible movements of the heart into charming melodies and airy arrangements. Try them yourself and let me know...

Sunday 7 February 2016

Sin trabajo (Contraluz, 1973)

Contraluz had a successful season in 1973 (especially in Argentina, their home Country) after their debut album "Americanos" was released and surely they deserved it. As this song called "Sin trabajo" ("Jobless" in English) will immediately show, their prog rock was fresh and genuine, influenced by some of the British Masters of the early '70s, but original enough to be worth of our attention after so many years.

Just for the record, the band came back in 1998 with their second album.

The clever mix of Latin American folk, acid guitars, excellent songwriting, dynamic drumming and flute à la Ian Anderson set up a charming atmosphere and a well structured plot. The changes in rythm and mood are so good and surprising that I usually listen to this track three or four times in a row. Last but not least, I love Alejandro Barzi's voice, strong and passionate as a South American vocalist should ever be.

Saturday 6 February 2016

Hyperborea (Tangerine Dream, 1983)

The last album by Tangerine Dream for Virgin records can be considered as a musical landmark between the fully experimental phase of the '70s and the new, ambient-like atmospheres. The title track, in particular, is one of the most arcane and well structured tracks from this "bridge" era. Inspired by the mythical northern realm of Hyperborea, this is a two part instrumental based on keyboards and soft drum machine, and also including a liquid, heartbreaking electric guitar (most likely a synth guitar effect). 

A remixed version of this album was released in 2008.

What I really like in this double sided song is the mix of sweetness and coldness the band set up, the excellent melodies and the calm, majestic crescendo in the second section. Tangerine Dream magically resumed the symphonic era and aticipated the New Age... and what's more, they added a pinch of emotion to their recipe. And very well they did!

Thursday 4 February 2016

Frequency (IQ, 2009)

"Frequency" is the opening and title track from IQ's album released in 2009. When I first listened to it and I immediately recognised the fully-IQ syncopated intro, I was somehow deceived and ready to label this track as another average specimen of this band's style. Then the plot of "Frequency" striked me, its themes, changes and progressions paraded and in a feww minutes I was in love with it.

"Frequency" was the tenth studio album by IQ.

True, this track features all the main traits of IQ, but it's so well thought out and so well performed that it shines as one of the brightest stars in contemporary neo-prog sky. Highly dynamic and unpredictable, this is the sort of musical clockwork I like, full of intricate patterns and emotional peaks. That's why once again I'm grateful to IQ.

Wednesday 3 February 2016

Dance of The Little Fairies (Sky, 1980)

I'll skip the long and useless debate about Sky being or not a prog band and I'll add this song to my blog with a great pleasure. "Sky 2" was a remarkable double album dealing with classical and rock music, like the rest of this band's discography. This is a rather calm and folky track, including a delicate piano intro and, of course, John William's delicious classic guitar.

"Sky 2" is a diversified and very rich album.

Keyboards and harpsichord add some more atmosphere to such a beaautiful theme. Of course, "Sky 2" album is packed with epic and long tracks, but I'm partial to this little gem, showing the misty and fairy side of Sky. And of course this is a good chance to enjoy the excellent performances of these musicians...

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Sounds That I Hear (Airbag, 2009)

Atmospheric prog has a very long and glorious history, from the late '60s pastoral tracks to Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson. Today, many Norwegian bands follow these moody examples and Airbag are among the most successful of them. "Sounds That I Hear" is likely to be the more optimistic song from the album "Identity", but it also exists as a two part mini-suite from a previous EP, released in 2005. The 2009 version, however, has a more coherent plot and surely sounds better, that's why I put it here.

"Identity" was the first full-length album by Airbag.

The sung theme is excellent, the intro is moving and the Gilmour-esque final guitar solo shines like the brightest pearl. It isn't easy to perform a seven minute slow tempo song avoiding boredom and redundancy, but this is exactly what Airbag did in this closing track... a dreaming way to say goodbye until the next time!

Monday 1 February 2016

Yellow Garden (Taal, 2003)

Frankly, it's impossible to give even a vague definition to Taal's music. The words eclectic and innovative are just approximate labels to begin with. These French musicians released two albums in the early 2000s and apparently love all kinds of music. More than this, they have the cultural and creative strength to put all those inspirations into well structured and coherent songs. This is the case with "Yellow Garden", coming from the album "Skymind".

"Skymind" was the second studio album by Poitiers-based Taal.

A bit of Symphonic rock (on the King Crimson side), a pinch of gypsy music, just a smell of heavy rock... and here you are an enthralling piece of prog, so thick and rich that you have to listen to it many times in a row to catch all the sophisticated solutions Taal found out. Electronic effects, distorted guitars, piano vibrations, violin and church bells... just name it! And the themes are so good... what else should a poor progfan ask for?