Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Take A Look (Twelfth Night, 1986)

Once upon a time there were some bands like this one making hybrid music that sounded like IQ meets Duran Duran. I discovered Twelfth Night many years ago and I started listening to their "Twelfth Night" album with mixed feelings. Most of the tracks sounded precisely like new wave stuff and I was ready to store the CD in my pop shelf when the closing song began and I changed my mind. "Take A Look" is a more than 11 minutes epic track, full of changes and pleasant surprises. Fortunately my blog is dedicated to songs, not to albums...

The flushing "Twelfth Night"cover. I like it.

The keyboard effects are a bit dated and the melodies are simple and catchy, but I like the way Andy Sears sings them and I adore the instrumental sections, rather long and complex. Keys and guitars interplay very well and the rythm section supports them brilliantly. This is prog, my friends, arranged in an Eighties fashioned way, maybe, but definitely good prog. I can't help but wondering why they didn't put in the CD one o two more tracks like this one, but this is nonsense... I'll keep on listening to it and leaving all the rest where it is.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Boarding Pass (Edhels, 1988)

I think this is the only prog band born in the Principality of Monaco... but maybe I simply ignore the Monégasque prog scene. For sure, Edhels are an interesting band, something totally different from the main French models, such as Ange, Atoll or Mona Lisa. Edhels' prog is an instrumental one, with strong new-age tentations and a spacey keyboards background. This "Boarding Pass" comes from "Still Dream" and dreamy it is, but if the rest of the album is rather cold and affected, this track has its own soul, mostly provided by Jean-Louis Suzzoni's Latimer-esque electric guitar.

"Still Dream" is the band's third album.
This is languidly spread over Marc Ceccotti's keys and Noël Damon's piano, while Jacky Rosati drums on slowly and effectively. Well, don't take my word for the musican's role here: those are multi-instrumentalists playing practically everything, so I'm just guessing or so. Anyway, this is a good, relaxing track with a feeling. Definitely, a "boarding pass" to an open blue sky.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Two Demons (Little Tragedies, 2006)

My... this is a dramatic, flushing, highly dynamic symphonic rock suite! Some 28 minutes of crazy keyboards, bombastic guitars, fiery drums... those Russian musicians (once called "Paradox") don't miss a thing! Taken from their "New Faust" 2-CD opus, "Two Demons" is as devilish as its title suggests, a chain of scales and progressions to leave breathless the more resistant of prog fans. Most of the track is instrumental, but some Russian lyrics enrich the song's sturdy texture now and then.

I can't help but recommend these guys... a force of Nature!

Sure, Gennady Ilyin's keyboards rule, and after all our friend is the band's founder, leader and composer, if you see what I mean. Of course, the rest of rhe crew also works very hard (and very well), they never take a rest for some 15 minutes, I mean it. So, when the beautiful, down-tempo section comes in, the poor listener really needs it. And here he'll fully appeciate Alexander Malakhovsky's dreaming guitar. In short, if your're looking for some quiet, pastoral prog, please, look elsewhere, but if you do like burning lava, fast fingers and strong emotions, with a final touch of melody, well, this is definitely for you.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

La terra dell'acqua (Premiata Forneria Marconi, 2006)

"Stati di immaginazione" ("Imagining States" in English) is my favourite PFM's album after their reunion in the late '90s. This "La terra dell'acqua" ("Water's Ground") is the opening track, an istrumental trip of more than 8 minutes intended to comment the images coming from an Italian TV program and concerning Venice and its destiny. Of course, this music can't be limited to a descriptive use and this track is a real prog masterpiece, starting with dreming keyboards and evolving into a polirhytmic and flushing composition with so many different moods and tempos.

"Stati di immaginazione" was PFM's 16th studio album.

I recommend the violin solo by guest Lucio Fabbri and the stunning Franz Di Cioccio's drumming, creative and unpredictable. Sure, I can't forget the electric guitar solo Franco Mussida mounts in the finale like a shining gem in a precious crown. Precious, yes, this is the word for such a beautiful, both romantic and aggressive track, showing once again how great PFM are.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Birthday Card at Christmas (Jethro Tull, 2003)

Well, today is Christmas, after all. And this is a great song, IMHO. It's the opening one of "The Jethro Tull Christmas Album", a band's hardly predictable hit released in 2003. Ian Anderson explained this song title: his daughter was born on Christmas day and her birthday was always on a minor key, as the big event somehow diminished it. So, this is kind of a repayment for her and all the others born that same day.

...And what a beautiful, seasonal cover art!

It's a short and folkish track with a very strong and beautiful flute intro leading to a classical Jethro Tull's ballad. Another splendid flute solo graces the middle section of the song and a third one, tight and windy, closes it. Really, listening to this track is a very good way to wake up at Christmas and it's exactly what I did today... but I'm sure I'll listen again to this long before next december!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Le Cimetière des Arlequins (Ange, 1973)

Taken from Ange's second album "Le Cimetière des Arlequins", this rather long title track features almost 9 minutes of excellent music and biting lyrics. The first sung theme is something like a puppet's music and perfectly represents the topic of the track: the anonymous wheel game of human lives transposed in a world of marionettes. Full of surprises, this song is.

The russian but german-born painter Jacques Wyrs illustrated this cover.

After the puppet's verse, we cross a dramatic chorus, then the first theme comes back and there's the dense, arcane, mostly instrumental second section, featuring a yelled version of the chorus, where Christian Décamps invites the "harlequins" to take their place in the graveyard. A harder riff, also quoting Wagner's Ride of The Valkyries and leading to the final clockwork bruitage shows the miserable crowd's parade towards the final resting place. Strong, that's the word for it.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Fountains (Starcastle, 1977)

An old, challenging question: is derivative music always so bad? Listening to Starcastle's "Fountains", the opening track of their "Fountains of Light" album, I'd say no, not necessarily at least. These American boys were faithful fans of Yes and they did all they could in their career to reproduce their idols' sound. And they did it well, sometimes very well, like in this 10 minutes and more epic. The melodies are catchy, the tempo always changing, all is well set up, from the keyboard and guitar solos to the choirs, let alone Terry Luttrell's voice, so similar to Jon Anderson's.

Starcastle released 4 studio albums in the '70s and another one in 2007.

Sure, the rythm section, although very good indeed, maybe isn't as good as their model's, but I don't think Chris Squire and Bill Bruford had twin brothers, after all. Nonetheless, the song is fully enjoyable, well balanced, never boring, brilliant in spite of a barely acceptable sound quality. Some passages are really worth a second listening (and a third, why not?) and they give me the kind of joy I'm serching for when putting a prog CD in my player. A yes clone? Who cares...

Friday, 20 December 2013

In Taberna (Wobbler, 2009)

Wobbler are a brilliant specimen of the so-called vintage prog bands, producing songs in the style of the '70s symphonic bands and often using their models' same instruments. This is exactly the case of this highly dynamic song, coming from Wobbler's second album "Afterglow". It's a majestic, mostly up-tempo instrumental track, driven by keyboards and especially Mellotron. All the main features of classic prog are here: the epic wall of sound, some slightly jazzy sections, a few romantic and foggy moments, flute, violin, jeegs, folk roots and even a glimpse of Dark Ages.

A very good cover art, by Trine, Kim Design Studio and Wobbler.

These Norwegian guys are really clever and they know how to change the tempo, the instruments, the mood, even the models of their flushing music. I especially like the way they link so many different riffs in a sort of modern rhapsody. Maybe they lack somehow in coherence and melodies, but they excel when it comes to real progressive fun!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Ashes Are Burning (Renaissance, 1973)

One of the most known and appreciated tracks of Renaissance, this is the title track of Renaissance's fourth album and one of the best vocal performances of Annie Haslam. This is not all, of course: in its 11 minutes of sparkling music, you'll find John Tout's  brilliant piano and keyboard solos, with a heartbreaking Hammond I adore and an impressive series of creative bass lines. And then... there's the rightly famous solo guitar by guest musician Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash (well, of course... Ashes are important here!).

"Ashes Are Burning" is definitely one of my favourites.
Andy's bluesy performance shines upon the keyboards and the rising drums, an excellent finale for such a good track, whose dynamic changes will always amaze me. I must spend another word about Annie's voice to finish my post: she reaches the highest notes without any volume decrease or tone impurity... a real wonder I appreciate more and more as I grow old.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Zeit (Tangerine Dream, 1972)

This long track - some 18 minutes - is one of the most arcane and fascinating ones in Tangerine Dream's discography. It's the last of the four movements forming the double album "Zeit", maybe the most intriguing one. Its spacey atmosphere, based on innovative keyboards, electronics and a slow, rarefied avant la lettre ambient music is both dreaming and scary, cold and moving. We're dragged in a dark, interstellar place, hold up by a cosmic wind and lured by a mysterious, alien energy, just to find that the outer space looks like our inner ego.
The alarming black sun of "Zeit".
Sure, "Zeit" belongs more likely to electronic experimental music or to the so called "kosmische musik",  than to progressive rock as we usually imagine it, but the high rate of creativity and the surprising landscapes in this track exceed all boudaries and perfectly incarnate the spirit of an era. Who could deny that the sense of wonder and the desire for unexplored soundscapes this song inspires is the same we find in all the biggest achievements of prog rock? That's why I add this track here, that's why I still listen to it today.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Another Day (Dream Theater, 1992)

One of the most famous Dream Theater's songs, taken from their "Images And Words" album. It's a plain song, with a rather traditional structure, but including two wonderful solos (electric guitar and soprano sax, just for the record). I like the melody very much and James LaBrie's vocal performance, strong and neat. The presence of so many acoustic instruments is another winning point of the song: the opening piano, guest Jay Beckenstein's sax, the acoustic guitar. And when the rock instruments come in, they create an emotional peak, leaving the sweet outro to Beckenstein of Spyro Gyra fame.

This song was also released as a single in 1993.

All is fit and carefully set in... a perfect song, if ever there was one, with some proggy features and moving lyrics about life and death. Some say John Petrucci wrote them for his father, then struggling against cancer. I don't know that, but the words are really good and the official video gently suggest a family meaning behind those beautiful lines:

If you're searching for a silent sky
You won't find it here
Look another way
You won't find it here
So die another day.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

1984 Overture (Rick Wakeman, 1981)

I still remember people laughing at me when I bought Wakeman's "1984" album and declared I loved it. Well, I still think so and the "Overture" track is one of my favourite tracks in it. It is pure fun, full of keyboard progressions and scales, enthralling jeegs, tempo changes and colourful chords. As usual, Rick overstates and he perfectly knows he's doing that. I can't help imagining him grinning and laughing while his fingers run over dozens of keys and switches.Laughing, yes, while the rest of the planet was listening to punk rock, new wave and dance music, he was keeping on his way and having the time of his life.
"1984" was originally released on Charisma label.
Well, this record has many more admirers today than in 1981 and its forthcoming remestered edition (I think it's the third one) will take on the shelves the places once filled with punk and new wave records. Congratulations, Rick.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Secret Gardener (Leap Day, 2008)

These Dutch guys are good composers and performers, IMHO. "Secret Gardener" comes from their "Awaking The Muse" CD of 2009, but a demo version of this track was released in a 2008 EP. It's a mid-tempo song featuring an interesting mix of catchy melodies, dreaming guitars, up to date keys and passionate vocals. Neo-prog, yes, but made and wrapped up with care and good taste. Leap Day succeed in varying the menu, but the song never grows stout and it remains a pleasant, fresh, enjoyable one.

Leap Day have released three CDs to date.
"Awaking The Muse" was their first album.

I saw too many proggers spoiling good songs trying to be smart. Fortunately, this is not the case. After all, we all need some good tunes, from time to time, something we can immediately catch and enjoy, something warm and comforting like a cup of good tea (or coffee, if you better like it). Such a musical product isn't easy to set up, believe me, and Leap Day know how to provide it. Perhaps, this is their gardener's secret, who knows? Anyway, thank you for the music, guys.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Hoppípolla (Sigur Rós, 2005)

Call it post-rock, post-prog, new ambient, art-rock or whatever you like, this song (and many other ones from this Icelandic band) isn't so far from our old dear prog. Hoppípolla (something like "Hopping into Puddles"), in particular, has a strong symphonic accent, with its dramatic crescendos and the perfect fusion of all instruments in a fluctuating, visionary wall of sound.

The album "Takk..." has a wonderful cover... hasn't it ?

I like the childish mood of the track, its Nordic, nostalgic taste, the smart passages from the loudest to the quietest moments. Most of all, I like the band's maniacal attention to details: volume, vocal effects, instruments choice... all sounds perfect, even the funny, original video with the old people acting like children. So, call this music as you like, I add it to my prog collection anyhow.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Embryo (Millenium, 2008)

The Polish band Millenium knows how to mix Floydian athmospheres with a modern electronic approach and this song, the opening of their album "Exist", is a very good specimen of their skills. Sweet and spacey, the keyboards open the road to Piotr Plonka's electric guitar, mid way between Gilmour and Hackett, then a beautiful bass / keys interplay introduces Lukasz Gall's neat and warm vocals, singing a ballad-like theme. A pleasant guitar interlude is followed by an arcane synth and the second stanza comes in.
Millenium are a very prolific band:
9 studio albums between 1998 and 2013!
The following long instrumental interlude is based on keys and a creative rythm section. It's like opening wide windows and doors and letting the light come into the room, a beautiful moment, IMHO. The faster and catchier final section isn't the best of things, maybe, but it gives to Plonka the time to show how much he likes R'n'B and acts like a bridge leading to the next track. All in all, a very good song, a fascinating musical landscape.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Inside And Out (Genesis, 1977)

I've always been fond of this track, recorded during the "Wind & Wuthering" sessions and released some months later in the "Spot The Pigeon" EP. The song is definitely divided into 2 parts.  The first one is a sweet ballad, based on the story of a man wrongly accused of  rape, convict for 20 years, finally declared innocent and released from prison. Some like these lyrics, some dislike them... I have mixed feelings, as I think the idea's good, but the actual words aren't always convincing. For sure, I like the melody and the 12 string guitars, two winning points, IMHO.

Genesis light show during their 1977 tour.
They also performed "Inside And Out" in a few dates.

The second part is even better, being an instrumental crescendo, based on a 12 strings rhythm guitar and featuring a very good Hackett's electric lead guitar and a rightly famous solo by Tony Banks on syths, well supported by drums and bass. I like the dynamic, enthralling, fully prog architecture of this section. There are some other reasons why Genesis fans often talk over this song: many of them complain its exclusion from "Wind & Wuthering", all of them consider it as Steve Hackett's swan song in Genesis history. What really matters to me is the beauty of this track, one of last true progressive ones from the band. Flowing water and bursting fire,  that's the essence of Genesis sound.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Art Gallery (Galleon, 1998)

I read somewhere that Sweden has some 7 millions inhabitants and I'm convinced that half this number must be involved somehow in prog rock music, if only I consider how many bands and musicians I know (and appreciate) from this country. Galleon is an important part of this movement and the 14 minutes opening epic of their album "Mind over Matter" is a good example of their kind of prog, even if they changed somewhat during the years.

One ofthe best cover arts in Galleon's discography, IMHO.

I really like this song apart, maybe for the strange electronic intro: it's a dynamic, variated and classic prog song, not so original, that's true, but so fresh and pleasant that it seldom finds its way to my CD reader. The changing tempo and the instrumental sections (especially the melodic keyboards solo around minute 10) are excellent, but I also recommend the sung main theme, let alone the performing skills of the band. The lyrics are intriguing, exploring the esoteric side of art. What else? Well, try it!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Desert Flight (Gazpacho, 2009)

Gazpacho are a very eclectic band, whose solutions mid way between pop and prog are usually pleasant and in a rapid evolution during their career. This is the opening track of their “Tick Tock” album and I like the way they put together two very different ideas. The first one is a fast tempo, bombastic song, strongly influenced by Muse and the so called operatic rock, featuring a very good melody and an impressive wall of sound.

"Tick Tock" was the fifth Gazpacho's album.

Then, the mood changes and you’re in a gloomy, dramatic, almost instrumental music with a scent of Asian ethnic sound, slowly growing up both in tempo and volume, but with a moving acoustic finale. So, even if they quote some contemporary models, Gazpacho build up a very original piece of music, unpredictable and striking, something you can easily call prog rock. And, what’s more, something emotional.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Musiken Är Ljuset (Kaipa, 1975)

Probably one of the best Swedish prog tracks ever and certainly one of the best Kaipa's compositions, this "Musiken Är Ljuset" ("The Music is Light", in English) really brings a new kind of light on our favourite musical genre. Full of different atmospheres, this 7 minutes opening track of the band's debut album is a clever mix of the main prog trends of the golden era. You'll enjoy in it vocal harminies, creative keyboards, unpredictable bass lines, a spiritual background and, of course, the inevitable tempo changes.

Kaipa: The Way We Were...

All is there and with a massive dose of good taste, something you won't find everywhere. What's more, there is plenty of good melodies and catchy riffs in this song, cleverly combined in a solid and coherent plot, where also a very young Roine Stolt finds his way to show his guitar skills next to predominant Hans Lundin's keyboards. The lyrics are in Swedish and I really like this: they add some slightly exotic sonorities to the lot and enhance the Nordic magic and legendary aura of the track.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Hope for The Life (Kayak, 1973)

Back to Kayak, here's a song from their debut album "See See The Sun", a stunning track featuring vocal harmonies and basically bass-driven. Yes, Cees van Leeuwen's work is excellent and his interplays with Ton Scherpenzeel's piano and keys are one of the strongest points here. The rythm is really enthralling, but some melodic interludes enrich the texture of a song whose beauty grows up each time you listen to it.

"See See The Sun" still is a seminal album in Eauropean prog.

Also the guitar riff in the second half of the song is pleasant and adds one more melody to this flushing collection of tunes."Hope for The Life" proves how vast were the band's inspirations, able to mix Gentle Giant, Genesis, Yes and some Canterbury style for a good measure. The final result is an original style, rich in flavours but well balanced in its architecture. A stimulating listening, that's for sure.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Heart Attack (Pallas, 1984)

"The Sentinel" was a seminal album in the '80s resurgence of prog rock and this song represents very well the martial, dramatic sound of the band, especially in this sci-fi concept album, their first and most loved one. It is important to say that this song was only released in the 1992 CD version of "The Sentinel", where the band also changed the running order of the tracks, in order to restore the original concept, including the music that didn't find its place in the LP. So, this song isn't a filler, not at all, and that's why I add it here to my collection.

Could a cover art be more progressive than this one?

The massive presence of old and new keyboards provided by Ronnie Brown, a very good Niall Mathewson's guitar solo, Euan Lowson's almost desperate and always theatrical vocals are some of the features of this 8 minutes epic and mostly slow tempo song. The mood changes are stunning, leading away the listener through war and peace, silence and noise, pleasure and pain. The melodies are well written and the rythm section supports each turn providing creative and intricate rythms, while the keys hold up the vocals properly stressing their emotional peaks. That's exactly what I like in a progressive rock song.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Don Giovanni (Versailles, 1992)

This '90s French band were able to release four studio albums and this epic is the title track of their second work. In the wake of '70s groups like Ange and especially Mona Lisa ( a bandin whose reformation they were involved in the year 2000), Versailles produced a highly dynamic and dramatic prog rock, influenced by neo-prog bands, but also featuring strong roots in the symphonic rock era. "Don Giovanni" is one of their best achievements, with its unpredictable tempo changes, its rich range of sounds and effects and its classic reference.

Varsailles released 4 albums between 1991 and 1998.
During more than 15 minutes, you'll appreciate the strong, emphatic and also sensitive Guillaume de la Pilière's vocals, the clever mix of his vintage and updated keys and - last but not least - his splendid piano work. The rythm section is also very good here, following the leader's incessant tempo and mood changes, a real tour-de-force putting more flesh and soul in this track. In short, a lively and colourful song, a blooming bouquet of musical flowers.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

L'étoile (Pollen, 1976)

Pollen were a Canadian band from the '70s flushing Québec prog scene. Their only self titled album features a very good symphonic rock and this song ("L'étoile", meaning "The Star"), a low tempo one, is probably my favourite one. It's a mostly melodic and keyboard driven track, with a very good sung theme and some sweet, well found instrumental interludes.

ProgQuébec and ProgresSon sponsored the remastered reissue
of "Pollen" and of many other good records. Thanks.

Claude Lemay alternates Genesis-like effects with some more original sounds and his flute, while Richard Lemoyne's 12-string guitar adds a fairy tale atmosphere. I also like Tom Rivest's vocals, ranging between a theatrical tone à la Ange and a full voice, outspread performance. Every time I listen to this song, it seems to me that time slows down and a gentle hand welcomes me into a smiling dimension.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Wisdom (Magellan, 2005)

The brothers Gardner (aka Magellan) are very popular among US 21st Century prog bands and they surely deserve it. Why didn't I choose one of their epic songs? Well, because I think this slow time and atmospheric "Wisdom", taken from the album "Symphony for A Misanthrope" magnifies some of the best features of the band. First of all, the tight and emotional voice of Trent Gardner, that's on top of things in such a rarefied track. It conveies the sense of isolation that's the album focus with a singular strength.

Poor Gardner brothers out in the rain.

Then, this song is also a fine example of the melodic skills of Magellan, a quality that's not so easy to find out there. Finally, the apparently plain keys and guitars plot is pure magic. Please note how the instruments come in and out the track, supporting the singer when it is necessary and leaving him almost alone in the intro and outro topic moments. Wow...

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Chelsea Monday (Marillion, 1983)

I can't describe my inner reactions each time I hear the oppressive bass line introducing "Chelsea Monday". I see an urban grey sky, a concrete landscape and a million people searching for something new in their lives. Really, this is a highly emotional track and when Steve Rothery comes in with his electric guitar solo the foggy atmosphere leaves its place to a human pulsing, suffering heart. Fish's vocals tell about a young lady trying to be a star:

Catalogue princess, apprentice seductress
Hiding in her cellophane world in glitter town
Awaiting the prince in his white Capri.

Did those dreadful guys push the poor lady of the song into the river ?

But the story ends with a moving and hurting note:

Hello John, did you see The Standard about four hours ago?
Fished a young chick out of The Old Father
Blond hair, blue eyes.

And the song quietly fades away while the the Old Father Thames rolls on...

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Return of The Sorcerer (Orne, 2011)

Orne are a prog side project of Finnish doom metal band Reverend Bizarre, including the three members of the "mother" group plus three other ones. It was difficult for me to choose a single track from their second album "The Tree of Life", as I think the whole CD is a pearl. Anyway, this "The Return of The Sorcerer" is a perfect example of Orne's dark, slow tempo, mysterious prog rock.

This album was a plasant surprise for many proglovers.

You'll find here a beautiful melody, a couple of vintage keyboards and a vagely acid guitar, but also a deep and strong lead voice singing esoteric lyrics the way some Early prog band used to do back in 1970. The final instrumental section of the track is a treat with its arcane atmosphere and the Floydian electric guitar playing on a thick keyboards background. Delicate and solid, melancholic and energetic, fairy and sensual, old and surprising, this is the kind of music I call prog.

Monday, 25 November 2013

To Take Him Away (Sandrose, 1972)

Another excellent early prog band from France, another beautiful song for my collection. This is taken from the band's only album and it's a 7 minutes slow tempo, pastoral, symphonic track. During the first five minutes of "To Take Him Away" a sweet ballad stanzas alternate with some soft electric guitar solos, pleasantly varying the main theme. Rose Podwojny's voice is really good, warm and deep, with no useless ornaments, while Jean-Pierre Alarcen's melting guitar is simply perfect.

Sandrose were formed in 1971 and only released one album.

Henri Garella and his keyboards rule the two minutes finale. It's an instrumental coda based on an ethereal mellotron and full of misty, arcane notes. The rythm section provides the finishing touch, with a discreet but essential work. What else? If you don't know, please give it a try!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

In The Eye (Ilúvatar, 1993)

This Baltimore based musicians only released three good albums from 1993 to 1999, but they're still on the road. Their neo-prog is certainly influenced by the '80s UK bands, but also features an original sound, as "In The Eye" proves very well. The three parts of this mini-epic highlight the excellent guitar work by Dennis Mullin, as you can see in the first and heavier part "Look Us in The Eye". 

"Ilúvatar" was the band's debut album.

Also his interplays with Jim Rezek's keyboards are stunning, like in the "Blind" part. Then, I like Glenn McLaughlin's vocals, especially in the last section, called "Through The Eye", where I also smell a pleasant scent of Kansas. Throughout the suite, the rythm section ensures a definite rock soul to the track, even if drums are sometimes too loud, but this is just a matter of taste. In conclusion, this is a very good example of '90s prog with an open heavy inclination, without sacrificing the right amount of feeling.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Roulette (Beardfish, 2007)

This long and diversified track comes from Beardfish' album "Sleeping in Traffic Part One" and it's the longest and most challenging one. Starting with a vintage wall of sound, it offers a big deal of styles and moods, building up a very original sound. These Swedish musicians love good melodies (and so do I) and love to arrange them in delicious plots and this song is a perfect specimen of their skills. It's a kaleidoscope of rythms and tunes, an inlay of tempos and moods, so that I can frankly state that this is one of the funniest and most intriguing songs
This was the third album by Beardfish.
I've ever listened to. Some of the vocal harmonies remind me of Gentle Giant, but in a easier way, and there's a strong reference to popular dance music too, something rather unusual in a prog rock track. A special mention goes to Rikard Sjöblom's keyboards, gathering a wide range of effects, such as a beautiful electric piano or a surprising accordion. Listening to songs like this one ensures that prog is not dead (nor dying).

Friday, 22 November 2013

Verso la locanda (Quella Vecchia Locanda, 1972)

A very interesting track, this is. Taken from the Quella Vecchia Locanda's eponymous first album, it shows a brilliant acoustic opening plot, with flute, guitar and especially violin in the foreground. Then, a short electric riff introduces the only sung section, a nostalgy slow tempo one, followed by a jazzy improvisation featuring a very good piano and immediately leaving place to a typical prog-rock acceleration providing a strong conclusion to the song. 

The painter Giancarlo Impiglia created this
suggestive artwork for "Quella Vecchia locanda".

Even if this "Verso la locanda" ("Towards the Inn", in English) is to be appreciated together with the whole concept album, I still like it as a stand alone, because it features all the main ingredients of the succulent dish we call "Italian prog": poetry, good melodies, moody plots, sharp changes and pleasant acoustic passages. In short, this could be suggested as a crash-test for the genre beginners. And I bet they'll ask for more.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

And You And I (Yes, 1972)

How could I forget this song? It's a 10 minutes song divided in four parts, each one bearing its own title and introducing a new theme, so that we can consider it as a short suite. Its acoustic intro show the listener inside a musical Wonderland made of sounds and colours, with the ineffable guide of Jon Anderson's voice, singing like an angel three different tunes until Rick Wakeman comes in and opens the sky. It's like diving in liquid music and the adventure goes on with Jon Anderson doubling the keys and closing the first section.

The single version of "And You And I" only features the second
section of the song, titled "Eclipse". Another US single version
included instead the whole song split in two parts.

Then, Steve Howe's guitar restarts the song and we're one more time in a ballad mood, rapidly evolving in more complicated forms, thanks to the rythm section and some more keyboard effects. So a choral theme rises up and the last word is for Jon Anderson. It's always surprising to me how this song can be both simple and intricated, a kind of balance and freshness Yes won't often achieve.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Lenny (Kyrie Eleison, 1976)

This Austrian band was so strongly influenced by "Nursery Cryme" and Genesis that their music is usually considered as a derivative and unnecessary one. Now, let's see this topic the other way round. What about their songs if we consider them adopting a merely musical point of view? Take this "Lenny", for example, the closing track of their "Fountain Beyond The Sunrise" album. It's a highly dynamic track, with many interesting changes, very good keyboard plots and, two or three catchy and wide themes and, last but not least, a solid and pleasant architecture.

Also the artwork reminds me something...

This 16 minute track isn't a suite, but one rich and well organized symphonic rock song, a well balanced epic featuring a clever succession of vocal and instrumental passages. Then, yes, there's much Genesis stuff in it and we could also argue that some synth effects aren't so good and the recording quality is poor, even in the remastered CD edition. Having said that, I still like the track and it gives me the kind of joy my ears are always searching for in the progressive world.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Song of The Marching Children (Earth And Fire, 1971)

This 18 minutes suite from the Dutch band "Earth And Fire" definitely shows how much prog rock was already a popular genre throughout Europe in very early '70s. And this band was both popular and refined, just like the song I'm introducing here, which is the title track of the second album of Earth And Fire. It's a fine example of mellotron-driven symphonic rock, full of changes and surprising solutions. This epic is divided in seven parts, each one with its distinctive style, still well harmonized and blended. The mood is atmospheric and gentle, but the tempo rises up now and then and the rythm section makes the Whole lot rather diversified, sometimes extravagant, never boring.

I better like the music than the artwork of this album...

Some passages are Worth a special mention, like the pastoral mellotron on "Childhood" section, the acoustic guitar introducing the "Purification" part and the final measured drums on the closing section titled "The March". Anyway, the whole suite is enjoyable, somewhat arcane and unpredictable. A jewel from the early Golden era of prog. Should I add IMHO?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

La Danse de la perte (Galaad, 1996)

This Swiss band’s album “Vae Victis” features several excellent tracks. “La Danse de la perte” (meaning “Loss Dance”) presents many interesting aspects. The first one is its unusual architecture: a suite of about 12 minutes divided in two very different parts: part 1, titled “Maybe We Are Brothers”, is sung (mostly in French) and even if this song is dedicated to a dead friend and not to a lover, these beautiful lyrics remind me an Aube, a medieval poetry in which the lovers complain the approach of dawn (Aube, in French) bringing their parting with it. Part 2, “Wasicun”, is an instrumental fast tempo progression, based on keyboards and with some very good guitars too. A moving storm, I daresay.

The band's line-up in 1996, as shown in "Vae Victis" booklet.

The second interesting point is, of course, the music. It’s absolutely original, showing how prog rock can’t be enclosed in a strictly regulated genre, with a harsh and gloomy ballad, some evocative instrumental interludes and the stunning finale I tried to describe above. A last mention goes to Pierre-Yves Theurillat’s vocals, mighty and hoarse, but also sensitive, a rock voice fond of melody.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd, 1975)

This is the quintessential rock (or prog rock) ballad in my very humble opinion. Cleverly arranged, it keeps an apparent simplicity on which David Gilmour's tight voice sings those beautiful lyrics about Syd Barrett, the ex member of the band to whom most of the "Wish You Were Here" album is dedicated. This song is so well known that I can skip all punctual descriptions, but I want to point out some of its features I especially like.

The band during the "Wish You Were Here" studio sessions.

The intro is one of them. The tuning radio including a glimpse of Tchaykovsky's fourth Symphony and introducing a station performing GIlmour's twelve-string guitar intro is stunning. And when the guitarist overdubs the radio intro with an acoustic guitar, the effect is not only pleasant, but also moving. The melody itself is wide, enjoyable but never too catchy, so that you can't help but sing along. Gilmour's solos and the suggestive lyrics complete the picture of this real masterpiece I can't listen to without a shiver down my spine.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Im Netz (Novalis, 1979)

I'm fond of Novalis' romantic vein, and also of their wide range musical inspiration. This 8 minutes song - mostly instrumental - is part of a concept album titled "Flossenengel" ("The Swimming Angel"), dealing with whales and sea life presevation. "In Netz" is a slow tempo, atmospheric song, strongly influenced by Pink Floyd and still very original.
Novalis line-up in 1979.
This is, IMHO, the closer musical depiction of sea one could imagine. Fluid, shifting, but also calm and majestic, this song rolls by like an ocean of sound, with its Gilmour-like guitars and its suspended and dreaming keyboards. The short sung section is a very German one, with a measured and almost martial melody, sung with a slow-motion effect. I really like to listen to this song with eyes closed and open mind.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Big Money (Rush, 1985)

Can a song be both typically '80s and undoubtedly prog? Many tried, Rush succeded with "The Big Money", the opening track and first single of their album "Power Windows", released in 1985. The arena rock style electric guitars, the pulsing bass and some synth effects are certainly the sons of their decade, but the creative drumming work, the intricate guitar / keys interplays, the bass line (with a taste of Yes) and the solos are the proggest thing you could imagine.

"The Big Money" single was released in october 1985.

The song plot is cleverly set up, with a strong guitar-driven intro, a tough vocal theme and the beautiful instrumental section, including some delicious tempo changes. The finale resumes the main vocal tune and treats the listener with some extra riffs. A well balanced piece of work in an album including many cold-hearted tracks, an enjoyable song, but not at all a plain melodic rock piece. Something to warm up a progger's dull day.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Something Very Strange (Spock's Beard, 2013)

I usually don't add a song released in the current year to this collection, but with this "Something Very Strange" I can't wait longer. After so many line-up changes, I didn't expect too much from the new Spock Beard's album, called "Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep", but I was wrong. I found in it at least two great songs and this is one of them.

A great cover artwork by Thomas Ewerhard!

I like this track, a mid-length one, because of its unusual fusion of traditional and intricate prog rock and a catchy main theme, maybe more inspired to the '60s than to the '70s. This theme returns with pleasant variations then and now, providing airy breaks in the tight frame of the song, including Ryo Okumoto's key progressions and a beautiful guitar solo by Alan Morse. A tough, compact, nonetheless fresh and surprising song I highly recommend.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Falling (Paatos, 2006)

This Swedish prog (or post-prog, as some say now) band was born as an offspring of Landberk and rapidly became a successful act. This song, taken from the album "Silence of Another Kind", is a good example of their production: gloomy, slow tempo, atmospheric and featuring Petronella Nettelmalm's hypnotic, melancholic vocals.

Paatos protecting themselves from the Swedish winter.

Her whispering voice flows on the freezing keyboards and some beautiful acoustic guitar chords. The melody is well written and charming, perfectly fitting with the mellotron sond. Despite the northern crepuscular mood, this song is deep and moving like a children's fairy tale. I highly recommend it to all the sweetest prog lovers out there.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

A Salty Dog (Procol Harum, 1969)

A plain song, yes, but what a song! This Procol Harum's third album title track has always been special to me, a real musical treat for my ears. All is perfect: the sea effects, the pop arrangements, the classic taste, the tragic lyrics about a sinking ship. And the vocals, of course, tight and wide as only the sea can be.

The "A Salty Dog" album also features this famous cover.

The magic of adventure fills the song, while the seamen dream a harbour and the captain cries. Here the band didn't try to remake their first and greatest hit, they found another effective way to communicate emotions and images. Last but not least, the melody of the song  is very, very good and well developed. The suspended verse and the airy, mighty chorus shape a catchy crescendo in both musical and emotional fields. Well, maybe they're not fields. They're seas.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Numbers (The Flower Kings, 2012)

This long suite opens "Banks of Eden", The Flower Kings' eleventh album, and it's a really good example of synphonic rock, with energetic guitar riffs, impervious keyboard progressions and airy, melodic sung themes. The sound is full and it features many changes of tempo, with the first 10 minutes equally divided between perfecty entwined electric walls of sound and choir and acoustic, intimate ballads. Then, I also appreciate the atmospheric section between minute 10 and 12, another good specimen of the spectacular, arcane but also ironic style of the band.

Silas Toball's wonderful cover art for "Banks of Eden".

This section is immediately followed by one of the best guitar solos in recent Roine Stolt's production. And when you think surprises are over, here you are sort a black music part, softly sung on a bass and hammond background. What else? A splendid keys / guitar duel (starting around minute 18) and a guitar-driven section in a crescendo of drums and choral arrangements. The finale begins with a taste of late '70s funky, then we're back in a melodic electric guitar solo. I don't always like The Flower Kings' epics, but this one is stunning and unpredictable, in a word: progressive.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Titanic Calls Carpathia (The Tangent, 2011)

A very unusual and beautiful epic from The Tangent, the band including Parallel or 90 Degrees and Flower Kings members. It's a 16 minutes and 6 parts suite featuring experimental sections and also more traditional ones, coming from COMM, the group's sixth album. After many line-up changes, The Tangent still counts on Andy Tillson's keyboards and mind.

COMM is about communications in the modern era.

As the lyrics offer a short history of electromagnetic communications focusing on some famous cases (The Titanic shipwreck is one of them), the atmosphere changes from section to section: vintage sounds, especially committed to the winds, electronic effects, jazz-rock, ambient, heavy guitars and sweeter keys. These changes are unpredictable, the track sounds very original and all the musicians, as usual, play very well. But there's something more: emotions... and this isn't usual in such a tecnically gifted band, after all.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Schoolyard Fantasy (Flamborough Head, 1998)

The opening track of this Dutch band's debut album is surprisingly good. Sure, they're strongly influenced by Marillion & Friends, and you'll breathe a Floydian smell roaming around (and in the lyrics...), but there's a brand melodic vein and a firm touch when it comes to put the different sections of this rather long track in the right order. So, the slow tempo and atmospheric background is delightful and never too sweetish, while the more lively sections feature good guitar work by André Cents.

A rather sad artwork by Theo Spaay. But I like it.

Keyboards are everywhere, as you can imagine, but Edio Spanninga's style is gentle and discreet and he knows how to switch from synths to piano and back again. I also like Siebe Rein Schaafs' tight and airy vocals, adding a further personal mood to the song. If you're searching for some good neo progressive rock, you'll find it here.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Cinema Show / Aisle of Plenty (Genesis, 1973)

One of the most known and influential Genesis' tracks, "The Cinema Show" (and its virtual outro "Aisle of Plenty") is a stunning piece of work. The first slow tempo section is an atmospheric ballad based on the 12-string guitar, including two rarefied istrumental interludes and featuring lyrics about masculine and feminine points of view on both life and love. This theme is illustrated with the Greek myth of Tiresias, the blind prophet Zeus changed in a woman for seven years and also with a reference to Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet characters. 

Betty Swanwick's painting "The Dream" on "Selling England" cover.

The second and longer section is an instrumental crescendo with a slight jazz-rock taste and a long, celebrated solo by Tony Banks, including one of the first appearances of synths in the goup's sound. Despite this famous solo, this section allows all the band's members to create an overall exhibition, a stunning example of musical machinery. The last section, "Aisle of Plenty", closes the track and the album coming back to the LP concept of English culture commodification. But all the above is nothing to me compared to the waves of emotion this track inspires me. I really can't describe my pleasure in listening to this, but I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Sur la trace des fées (Ange, 1975)

This Ange's song is a very sweet and apparently plain one, but also one of my favourites ever. It was nspired by popular legends about fairies, as narrated by Émile Jacotey, the old peasant providing the concept for the fourth album of the band. He tells the wanderings in the Woods he and his childhood friends used to organize in order to see the fairies and in fact the song title means "In the wake of the fairies".

Ange's line-up in 1977.

So, the strong folk taste of the music and the childhood's nostalgic mood give to this track a special, magic atmosphere, a softness of its own I like very much. That's not all: the fusion of rock and acoustic instruments is also a winning point, just take the delicate and neat rythm section's work. Last but not least, the melody itself is excellent and Christian Décamps sings it with his usual passion, especially the chorus, one of his emotional peaks. IMHO.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

King-Bird (Trace, 1975)

A 22 minutes suite I really like, "King-Bird" is from Trace's second album, titled "Birds" and completely dedicated to our winged friends. This Dutch trio, leaded by keyboardist Rick Van Der Linden, gave a very good proof of their skills in this epic, featuring a great deal of keyboards, with a strong presence of harpsichord and piano. But I also like Jaap Van Eik's calm and sweet vocals and - what a topping for this cake! - in this track (and album) Ian Mosley is the drummer, yes, the Marillion guy.

That's "Birds" cover art...

...and the band: do you recognise Ian Mosley?

Vocal and instrumental themes are so good, sweet and airy, and all the arrangements are smart and original, so that the English prog influence is never too strong and Trace's music is no way a derivative one. They mix ELP's exuberance and Italian prog poetry, classicism and oddity. The final effect is a colourful kaleidoscope of sounds and ideas, a fairy tale full of joy and gentleness. Never too sweet, never too tricky, this suite is a hidden Wonderland I like to explore now and then. Well, now I told you, it's no more hidden, I'm afraid.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Dark Ages (Jethro Tull, 1979)

A dramatic track, "Dark Ages" is, with its freezing intro and its pessimistic lyrics about the future of  both Earth and humanity. A 9 minute epic about the deadly struggle between human greed and Nature, featuring in all "Stormwatch" album songs. But if many prefer the shorter ballads from this album, I better like this track. Maybe because the song is definitely prog, stretched and rather elaborated, with all instruments engaged in the musical description of human senselessness.

Ian Anderson watching the storm approaching...
...such a good cover painting by David Jackson!

The instrumental interplays involving keyboards and guitars are impressive and Ian's vocal performance is strong and rugged. A tough and never boring track, including softer and arcane interludes and sudden tempo changes. The gloomy mood of "Dark Ages" isn't the one you'd expect in a moonless night... it's more like the sharp darkening preceding a storm. A good, deeply emotional song, IMHO.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Ur Vilande (Änglagård, 2012)

The long awaited third Änglagård's album, "Viljans Öga", wasn't a disappointment, being as intriguing and deliciously intricated as the previous ones. This opening track, "Ur Vilande", is my favourite one from this CD featuring four long epics. I like it because of its fairy taste, its acoustic and vintage instruments, its beautiful and ethereal themes, but also because of its changes.

We had to wait nearly 20 years to hear some new music from them.
Yes, it was worth waiting.
There are some lunar and delicate sections in this track (especially in the first and last parts), but you'll also find intricate and full-bodied passages and even a psychedelic bridge. The sound, the volume, the tempo and the mood range between the calm and the tempest, the crescendo and the calando, but the whole track is full of the natural, pastoral taste I like so much in Änglagård's music. The suite is instrumental, but we don't need the words to see the magic in it.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Paradox (Kansas, 1977)

One of the most exciting and enthralling Kansas' tracks, a fast tempo where all the instruments shoot like smoking guns. Take the violin, for example. In the middle instrumental section it runs faster than light. Mr. Walsh sings like a madman and the whole song is like a race against the time. Less than 4 minutes are enough to convince evrybody that Kansas were at their heights in their "Point of Know Return" album.

Kansas discography: a box full of jewels.

The interplays and the choral performance of the band simply struck me down and the folk and prog elements are just as one: images of dusty deserts and urban landscapes flow away before our mind's eye and when such a display of skills finally comes to an end, we're breathless and happy as we had won the Olympic Games. Wow...