Sunday, 31 March 2013

Sommerabend (Novalis, 1976)

I like Novalis so much... and this is my favourite track of theirs. It's a 18 minute suite divided in five movements, full of melancholy and beautifully relaxing. Acoustic guitars and keyboards drive the song through a mythical world based on ancient legends and intact nature. Like the romantic poet Novalis from which they took the name, this new era romantic fivesome fill their music and their German lyrics with dreams, flowing water, gentle breeze and contemplation.

Novalis' most famous line-up. In a natural environment, of course.

Several sweet melodies - including the stately main theme - and some rythmic accelerations describe a summer evening and the slow changes in light and wildlife and one really seems to be there, nearby the stream, under the trees, watching and thinking over. Fred Mühlböck's deep and calm voice is just like the icing on the cake... a cake I'll always like to eat. Just a slice, anyone?

Saturday, 30 March 2013

In Your Eyes (Collage, 1994)

This track, actually a 14 minute suite, comes from "Moonshine", generally considered as the masterpiece of the polish band Collage. It's an epic, neo-prog song with a very good balance between keyboards and guitars, reminiscent of course of Marillion's first albums but with an original approach and a special taste for melodies. Vocal themes and instrumental passages follow one another with simplicity and there's a solid coherence in every moment of the song.

Believe me: this album is worth listening to.

The strongest qualities in it are levity and fantasy, both in composition and arrangements: I like the way the voice merges with the instruments and also the piano plots announcing tempo changes and new melodies. Please don't expect innovation or turning points in prog history here: this is something you already know, but done at the highest level. Isn't it enough for you? It is for me.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Song of Scheherazade (Renaissance, 1975)

Renaissance are one of the most controversial prog bands ever. The world is sharply divided in two: those who love them in an almost religious way and those who treat them like false prog or even musical trash. Well, I think they're great and this suite always charms me with its classical and oriental flavour. I like them and above all I like Annie Haslam's pure voice.

Renaissance today.

This 24 minute suite is a real treat and also a musical tour de force exploring different classical sources in its nine movements. So you'll find not only Rimsky-Korsakov here, but also folk-rock, Arabic variations, sudden changes, beautiful melodies and - last but not least - smart lyrics about Scheherazade's story as read in 1000 And One Nights. Nothing is more risky than orchestral arrangements in a rock track, but Renaissance succeed in melting all the orchestra sections and the electric instruments in a majestic but never exceeding epic. As usual with them, the sound is bright and warm. This is like a ride through Wonderland, except that you're not Alice, I suppose.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

And You Tried So Hard (Gong, 1971)

Roberto Rizzi amazes us once again with a particularly complex prog pearl. Thank you, Roberto!

A very strange group. Daevid Allen, after his experience with Wilde Flowers/Soft Machine, decided to form a band with his girlfriend Gilli Smyth (who was teaching at Sorbona University!). Gong is a planet, from where pixies, with the head like a teapot, communicate with earth. But "Tried So Hard" doesn't talk about this story; this tune appeared in "Camembert Electrique", the album which anticipated some aspects of the soon to come Gong mythology. So this song is played in Gong's perfect style.

As usual, Gong chose an original album cover.

The beginning is very kind, with a gently guitar. Then, a volume increase announces that some different and stronger  riffs are coming. In fact, Gong's albums have the peculiarity of having an incredible range of guitar, vocal and other instrument riffs. "Tried So Hard" isn't an exception. After this powerful section, Gilli Smith begins to sing with his ethereal voice and the band plays very very softly. And then, another volume increase, the powerful section starts once more, untilthe gently guitar riff of the beginning comes back to close the track.I like this song, because his structure reflects what Gong were, but, at the same time, this tune is very serious and it doesn't contain too many oddities, of which Gong were often great masters.
Roberto Rizzi

Monday, 25 March 2013

Slow Dance - Part One (Anthony Phillips, 1990)

IMHO "Slow Dance" is the best Ant Phillips' album ever. It's a suggestive and pastoral piece divided in two parts, equally enjoyable, even if I better like Part One. The slowness of the title result in a serene and grand musical architecture, where three main themes intertwin and evolve, building up a rural and airy symphony driven by keyboards and classical instruments.
Ant & his guitar...
This relaxed atmosphere has the power to calm me down even in my most nervous days. This music is full of visual suggestions, mainly from natural landscapes, but this isn't just a description: like a romantic poet, Phillips creates strong links between the nature's elements and the listener's soul, prompting a deeper and private exploration.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Echoes (Pink Floyd, 1971)

Is it prog? Isn't it prog? Is it a suite or maybe an extended song? Is it a psychedelic manifesto? How many useless questions! This is one of the most influential songs of the early '70s and therefore it belongs to the whole underground and experimental world of those fundamental years. You'll find traces of prog, psychedelia, electronic rock, ambient and even fusion in this 23 minute track taken from the album "Meddle". From the mysterious and mistic intro with its cavernous effects and that amazing guitar touch, through the choral mid section and until the final fading sounds "Echoes" is a puzzling, unforgettable trip. Mind, this doesn't mean the track is random or messy. On the contrary there's a perfect musical architecture, not so far from the classical concerto plot, with crescendo and calando movements, well distributed peaks, an intro and an outro.

Meddle's gatefold inside photograph. The icon of an era.

The mesmerizing nature of this track comes from a careful dosage of classical and modern features, acoustic and electronic sounds. The lyrics add some more mysteries, suggesting loneliness and suspense, spiritual awakening and a bright disclosure on intangible elements such as light, air and - of course - echoes.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Hyperventilate (Frost, 2006)

Frost are a singular band: following the unpredictable moods of leader Jem Godfrey, they disband, reunite, dissolve and revive two times a week. Even so, this track - taken from "Milliontown", their first album - is one of the best prog instrumentals I've heard in recent years. I recommend it for many reasons and, first of all, its intriguing architecture. Beginning with a piano tune, the song build itself before your very ears, gradually growing in rythm and complexity.

Here's the group's line-up in 2006... a real supergroup
featuring members from IQ, Arena and Kino.

It's a real tour de force, challenging and enthralling, packed with original arrangements and brilliant variations, where a prog lover finds exactly what he's looking for. There's an accurate alchemy in "Hyperventilate", so that even in the loudest moments the track retains a recognizable plot, where each instrument shines on its own. Last but not least, like every good (prog) rock song, this track gives me a generous charge of pure energy. What else could I ask for?

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Budapest (Jethro Tull, 1987)

I immediatly fell in love with this song back in 1987 and I still adore it. Yes, there's a strange Dire Straits meets Jethro Tull connection here, but the track's architecture is gorgeous, with a bueautiful tune and many instrumental passages (flute solos above all, as you can easily guess) dotting the composition now and then. There's also a great vocal performance by Ian Anderson, one of the last, alas!
"Budapest" is here!
The guest musician Ric Sanders guarantees an additional hungarian atmosphere with his violin... and I swear those violin / flute plots are among the best Jethro Tull's inventions ever! The lyrics are about some Anderson's touring memories on the banks of the Danube and fit the music perfectly well. I must admit the rest of "Crest of A Knave" album is not at the same level, but thanks to this song it's worth buying.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Le Chant du Monde (Minimum Vital, 1990)

Joy and optimism aren't necessarily the most widespread moods in prog rock songs. But this is the case with "Le Chant du Monde", the opening track of Minimum Vital's album "Sarabande". This French musicians know too well how to blend folk roots and vigorous rock in a unique sound. You'll find here the Mediterranean sun and the Occitan taste in a seven minutes instrumental fresco weaving acoustic and electric moments, slow and fast movements.

A recent line-up of Minimum Vital.

The background idea is to depict the variety and richness of the world, its multi-ethnicity in a joyful and enthralling dance pointing out, of course, the keen flavour of Southern France. That is not common and if you're new to this group, I highly recommend this track as your first sample. 

Monday, 18 March 2013

Islands (King Crimson, 1971)

This is what I call a superb song. A very long, slow, deep, melting track, written in a pensive mood and featuring a really beautiful melody. Here I always breathe a foggy air with a scent of infinite, like a distant horizon or an endless sea, a calm and slightly sad atmosphere. Apparently relaxing, this music is also quietly nervous, if not alarming when the mellotron whispers its theme.

UK's gatefold edition inside drawing:
"Earth, stream and tree encircled by sea..."

Every time I listen to this, I also feel like thinking over me, my life, my destiny. This is not strange, 'cause Peter Sinfield's lyrics protray human individual lives like separate islands seeking profound and mysterious links, so that "Islands join hands 'neathe heaven's sea". One of those songs you must listen to before it's too late.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Down And Out (Genesis, 1978)

I can hear you: What? With so many famous Genesis' songs why on Earth did you choose this one? And why did you choose a song from that nearly pop album? Calm please, calm... I'll explain everything. First: "...And Then There Were Three..." was not only my first Genesis album, but even the first prog rock LP I ever listened to. But I don't present here this track just because it's a sweet memory... I do think it's one of the greatest short prog songs ever. Yes, I do.
The sunset of an era: "...And Then There Were Three..."
 All is perfect here: there's a wave of energy and a bit of melancholy, a highly creative rythm section and a well found tune, an impressive wall of sound and two flawless tempo changes. The intro of the song is one of my favourite passages: a feeble keyboard chord develops into a sound blast via Mike Rutherford's bass guitar. There's also an inusual anger in the lyrics where one could identify a reference to the recent goup's changes in both line-up and musical choices. However, IMHO this is one of the last great prog sosngs of the '70s and one of the strongest opening songs in a rock album. Ever. Yes, ever.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The House on The Hill (Audience, 1971)

I happen to like the folk side of prog, that's why I put here this song, the title track of Audience's third album. More than seven minutes of good music, rich and umpredictable music. It starts with a r'n'b intro, not so far from Jethro Tull's ballads, including flute and scoustic guitar. Then, here you are the most creative percussions you can imagine, a slightly dissonant and jazzy brass passage, flowing into a Crimson-like chaos, finally we're back to the r'n'b opening theme.

A sad story: the wicked lady lures her victims...
...then sentence them!

No keyboards, but you scarcely notice it in such a mellow selection. Sure, this is a unique song in Audience's production, but all their tracks are highly valuable, though not as much multicolored. Now, the lyrics: there's a creepy story about a lady living in a lonely old house and luring men she killes and bury away. The album cover ironically portrays this. I also like the acid vocals by Howard Werth, giving a more individual feature to the whole lot and, of course, Keith Gemmell's wind instruments: sax, flute and clarinet, a very good alternative to keys. Too bad they disbanded so early...

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Chupacabras (Phideaux, 2005)

This is what the Americans call an epic song. Basically, it's  a 20 minutes prog rock suite, and a very good one. Phideaux Xavier is one of the strangest characters in the proggy world, considering himself the one and only half-prog / half-punk artist. That said, I like his music very much, especially - of course - when his half-prog part is concerned. This is exactly the case with Chupacabras, kind of a prog anthology, filled with all the devices and sophistications we tend to love.

Xavier Phideaux: a ghostly presence from the American prog scene.

It's a classical prog, but also a state of the art XXIst century prog, updating virtually every standard in our genre and giving to the track its own spiritual, even eerie taste. Our friend Phideaux knows very well how to ally different moods and themes always skipping two dangerous foes: boredom and affectedness. So, don't worry if he's a little strange in haircuts or musical statements, Xavier Phideaux keeps everything under control. Amazed? Incredulous? Well, please listen to this and let me know.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Roundabout (Yes, 1971)

Many prog fans and sites say this is the ultimate prog song. That's what I don't know, but for sure you'll find here all the basic elements of classic prog and many more. First of all, the intricate musical plot, including tempo changes, instrument dialogues, syncopated rythms, complex vocal arrangements, mystic and ecological lyrics and -last but not least - mountains of technical prowess! Is this all? No, that would make a good song, a display of skills, not a masterpiece as undoubtedly it is.
The 7'' version of "Roundabout" peaked #13 in USA single charts.

IMHO the extra value is provided here by two important qualities: harmony and balance. All the instruments play as one, both technically and emotionally. A perfect clockwork, yes, but with a beating heart inside. A last note: a single version of this song exists, during 3'27'' and released in january 1972, but please if you don't know Roundabout (well, there must be some...), listen to the full album version (8'29''): you'd loose 5 minutes of pure joy.

Friday, 1 March 2013

UFO (Bacamarte, 1983)

This is the first track from Depois do fim, the only album released by the original line-up of the Brazilian band Bacamarte. One of the hidden treasures of prog rock. Listen to this instrumental intro and you'll find a bit of everything: classical music, South-American folk, Italian prog, Spanish guitars, ambient passages, Genesislike and Floydlike moments... well just name it! That said, the track is not a mere compilation of favourite prog styles, there is a strong and original temper, sweet but not sweetish, pleasant but not trivial.

A dark cover for a bright music.

Please don't forget the rest of the album, where you'll also listen to Jane Duboc's beautiful voice. One more thing: even if this music is so sweet, the topic is not: Depois do fim ("After the End") is about the end of the world and the day after. The typical scent of '70s is not strange: released in 1983, this album was actually recorded by the band in the late '70s, then abandoned and rediscovered five years later. Luckily, I daresay.