Friday, 28 February 2014

Hello (Blackfield, 2004)

Surely I wasn't the only puzzled prog fan when Blackfield project took life, featuring the Israeli pop idol Aviv Geffen side to side with the new progressive hero Steven Wilson. Nonetheless, Blackfield survived and can now be considered as a remarkable success, both in artistic and commercial aspects. This song, "Hello", is the closing track of the band's self titled debut album and I think it's one of the shortest and simplest songs in this blog. But it's also a very beautiful one, perfect in his own genre.

Oh... what a tender band this is!

"Hello" isn't an adventurous composition, but its fascinating, Floydian ballad structure is exalted by Geffen's soft voice and a clever arrangement, featuring a slide guitar, a quiet piano, a pinch of strings and a short and effective Gilmour-esque solo. There's a kind of magic in such a discreet song, based on its melodic solid ground and on its small sized and rather sad sense of wonder. No, you definitely don't need 15 minutes to build up a good (and proggy) song, especialy if Steven Wilson is involved.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Summoned by Bells (Big Big Train, 2012)

I'm a proud fan of Big Big Train's "English Electric" musical project. I found in it the progressive soul and a lot o good themes and melodies. This track is taken from the first part of the band's victorian fresque, and I especially like it. At first, David Longdon's beautiful voice is surrounded by such a rich choice of sweet instruments and Genesis-like sounds that the harsh guitar introducing the bridge comes like a surpise. The rest of the song flows away pleasantly between the two banks of tradition and innovation.

"English Electric" was released into two full length CDs plus an EP.
I highly recommend the complete set with beautiful arts.

The dramatic tempo change around minute 6:40 is another unpredictable passage and the following wind section is pure magic to me. Andy Poole's electric guitar switches from Hackett to Fripp in a moment and when the track fades away you'd ask for more. A special mention goes to Nick D'Virgilio and his drums, giving a strong and lively colour to BBT's music, but what's really amazing is the perfect mix of the band's skills. Really, this is another excellent song from one of the best prog bands out there. 

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Je suis d'ailleurs (Atoll, 1974)

Taken from their first album "Musiciens-Magiciens", this "je suis d'ailleurs" ("I'm from Elsewhere" in English), is probably one of Atoll's most original songs, with its mysterious opening, followed by a  syncopated rythm and a series of amazing musical inventions. If the first half of the song (more than 4 minutes) is drum-driven, then a gentle ballad opens the space and the keys come in, painting an aerial picture. The final part is once again ruled by highly creative, somehow experimental percussions. There's nothing trivial here, and the whole song is deep and evocative, like an arcane ritual, but never unpleasant or puzzling... just intriguing and anticipating.

This was the debut album of Atoll.

The contrast between the central melodic part and the challenging rest of the song suggests the image of a beautiful island surrounded by a dense and frightening ocean of fog. The best way to end up this introduction is to put here the complete (and very short) lyrics of the song (I apologize for my rough translation):

An adrift ship, / bridges of light / with an opalescent reflection / light the Oceans.
Crossing the seas of time / I found the land / there, straight ahead / in the heart of the Universe. / I'm from Elsewhere, / I'm from Elsewhere.

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Dance (Alquin, 1973)

Taken from Alquin's second work "The Mountain Queen", this rather long song (more than 13 minutes) is an unusual example of Dutch golden era prog with an eclectic approach. There's a continuous duel between Hammond organ and electric guitar here, but the rest of the band also contributes with creative bass lines, delicate vocals, beautiful cymbals and a pinch of winds.

Alquin released four albums between 1972 and 1976,
then two more in 2005 and 2009.

The tempo is usually up, with slow, arcane interludes and some well found changes, while the general mood couldn't be more '70s, including some King Crimson, early Pink Floyd, psych and Canterbury inspirations. Nothing is writtene, here, and the band knew very well how to amaze the listener, offering vivid solos and ballad-like themes following one another in a fluid and slightly acid atmosphere. Just close your eyes and you'll see hippy festivals and long haired youths everywhere! Well, this is not a deadly sin, after all...

Sunday, 23 February 2014

300 songs up to date!

...By the way, this little blog reached its 300th prog song. As usual, I take the time to say thank you very, very much to you all. If you keep on visiting this blog, well, it's not for me, it's for this addicting music we call progressive rock!

Reminiscencias de un mundo sin futuro (Iconoclasta, 1985)

These Mexican guys are now pretty well known and appreciated worldwide and they actually deserve that. "Reminiscencias de un mundo sin futuro" (meaning in English "Memories of a World without Future"), comes from their second album "Reminiscencias" (that is "Memories") and is a seven parts and 18 miunutes suite. Its intricated interplays, its abundance of moods and changes make this track something like a compendium of many prog rock different styles. So, you'll find here synphonic passages, slightly jazz improvisations, acoustic and lunar interludes, hints of Genesis and ELP, but also original choral arrangements and a pinch of Italian prog.

A beautiful album, including our excellent suite.

Nonetheless, this epic is perfectly balanced and surely has its own character, marked by beautiful guitars driving the music, a light but effective keyboards background, a recurring theme and also a tasteful architecture. The apocalyptic subject of the song suggests some dramatic passages, but there's a firm sense of measure everywhere and this is the last (but not least) credit I'm happy to assign to this band's music.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Get 'em out by Friday (Genesis, 1972)

An unpredictable, unfailing musical reservoir still providing inspiration to so many musicians today. Taken from "Foxtrot", this is one of the most theatrical Genesis' tracks, featuring a Peter Gabriel's histrionic performance, where several character come to life before our very eyes (or ears?), each one with his distinctive temper and voice. The sci-fi lyrics are about speculation and greed, partially inspired to a pair of SF novels and short stories from the pulp magazine golden era. But if Gabriel and his ironic plot amaze the listener, it would be unforgivable to ignore the musical contents of "Get 'em out by Friday".

I don't need to introduce this album nor its cover art, I suppose...

Not only there are three spendid themes and a lot of interesting instrumental passages, but the rythm work is simply astonishing, featuring a series of changes, unusual tempos and intricate bass and drum lines and interplays. Each time I listen to this track I walk in an upside down fairy tale and I'm sure I'll never be tired to get in.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Soleil d'aube (Visible Wind, 1991)

Let me take a rest with this sweet, romantic song coming from Québec, Canada. Here - and in the whole "A Moment beyond Time" album - those musicians were influenced by middle era Genesis and they succeeded in conjuring up a suspended, relaxing atmosphere. The French lyrics add some more sweetness and authenticity to the big picture, so that you don't even try to sort this track under any label and just enjoy it, following its languid tempo.

This was the second album by "Visible Wind".

The long electric guitar duet starting at minute 2:30 is maybe the musical peak of "Soleil d'aube" (meaning "Dawn Sun"), but I also like Philippe Woolgar's warm vocals. If you feel like listening to some melodic prog and you didn't dislike the "...And Then There Were Three.." album by a well known English threesome, well, you may try this. I did and still do.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Put on Your Nightcap (Carol of Harvest, 1978)

This German band had no success at all when they released their self named and sole album, back in the '70s. But their destiny wasn't to be forgotten and this obscure record somehow survived the decades and is now considered a cult prog folk album. This epic opens the work and is really worth a keen listening: the beautiful Renate Krause's female voice (a bit like Annie Haslam's), the clever, dreamy arrangements including both acoustic instruments and electric ones (a moog and the guitar, essentially), the well written melodies and the splendid Robert Högn's drums are just the main features I recommend to your attention.

I was simply delighted when I listened to this record.
The central part of the suite is dominated by an excellent electric guitar solo by Axel Schmierer, and I also like how this musical peak fades away and comes back to Renate's vocals. Another very good solo - keyboards, this time - graces the final section of the song. I do think "Put on Your Nightcap" is another progressive hidden treasure and a pleasant trip into a better, brighter, more intense world.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Regina al Troubadour (Le Orme, 1976)

Le Orme wrote several song about the so-called Flower Power era and this one, taken from "Verità Nascoste", was also a successful single in the Italian charts. Mixing gypsy habits, Hippy Nation and a vague social engagement, this very original song is about a girl who decided to quit her wealthy family to join a nomadic group.

The single cover featured the handwritten lyrics of the song.

That said, the main interest of "Regina al Troubadour" dwells in its music and in its strange musical architecture. The delicate sung line aternates with a series of instrumental interludes representing many faces of the '70s music scene: prog, pop, folk, funky, classical revival, space... they're all there, like in a colourful exhibition. And the Troubadours' Queen still smiles with her robes and her rings, the icon of an era.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Waiting to Happen (Marillion, 1991)

When I first listened to this song I was surprised. A very simple and almost traditional ballad, acoustically arranged, including lyrics about love, just the happiness of love. Is this prog? Is this plain pop music? Same old question I can't aswer to but saying 'I really don't care'. Just the basic facts: this is a beautiful song, featuring an aerial musical background based on 12 string guitars and keyboards, well supported by the rythm section.

"Holidays in Eden" was the second Hogarth era Marillion's album.

Mark Kelly, in particular, is pewrfect, stressing the singer's words and emphasizing the lightness of the chorus. This ballad carries the listener above the everyday fog, clearing an inner, pure sky and I'm grateful to Marillion for giving me five minutes of joy. If a beautiful song granting positive emotions and based on a solid melody isn't prog, well, this isn't.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Mounds (Eternal Wanderers, 2011)

A very interesting discovery I recently did, both this track and the band, I mean. And this for two main reasons. Firstly, a female driven prog band isn't usual at all, but really welcome. In fact, two members of "Eternal Wanderers" are women, the sisters Tatyana and Elena Kanevskaya,  and they play the main roles: keyboards and vocals. Secondly, they do a very eclectic prog. Take this track, taken from the album "So Far And So Near", for example: you'll find the gloomy atmosphere of post-prog bands like "Paatos" or "White Willow", with an airy and loud melody.

"So Far And So Near" is Eternal Wanderers' second album.

Even the official video is a lugubrious one, including murders, shrouded characters, candles and no colours at all. But as the track goes on, many unpredictable changes will surprise you and you'll hear classic prog progressions, Eastern European folk roots (they're Russian, after all...) and even some space rock scent. And the passages between all those different moments are terrific. I really enjoyed this track... now try it yourselves.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Away from You (Kansas, 1979)

It's funny to discover how many good prog tracks were released in 1979, when apparently the greatest season of our genre was over. This "Away from You", for example, is an enthralling up tempo song, were keayboards and guitars interplay and Steve Walsh's voice provides the best topping on such a lively musical cake (even anticipating some musical solutions of his upcoming first solo album). 

A mix of tradition and future:
these are both the cover and the music of "Monolith".

Rythm and energy are the first feature of this song the listener perceives, but I also feel passion and like the acoustic passages of "Away from You", adding a country taste and some more facets to the track. Really, I adore the "heroic", spectacular and somehow American side of Kansas and this song is a perfect specimen of this mood.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Empty Lie, Empty Dream (Gerard, 1996)

One of my favourite Japanese (neo) prog tracks, this Gerard's opening track of their album "The Pendulum". It starts a little like Pinl Floyd's "Time" with a paraphernalia of clocks, but all the rest is completely different. Actually, it's a heavy symphonic song, driven by excellent, very fast and wild Toshio Egawa's keyboards, perfecty supported by the rythm section. Sure, the song also includes some down tempo and atmospheric sung sections, with the beautiful vocals of Robin Suchi, but Egawa's work is simply brilliant and his solos are worth more than a single listening.

An old fashioned romantic cover, as in Gerard's tradition.

Even if you'll find here a certain grandeur, those guys are never too bombastic and know when to stop it there and turn the stage. I do think Gerard are one of the musical peaks of Japanese progressive rock and their intricated style sets on fire an old proggy hearted fan like me.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Vigil (Fish, 1990)

The solo career of Fish, the first Marillion's frontman is a fluctuating one, with good and bad moments since he left the band. For sure, his first album, "Vigil in A Wilderness of Mirrors" still is one of his best achievements and its opening track, "Vigil" is probably my favourite one. It's an atmospheric song of more than 8 minutes, featuring a very good mix of moods, with a sensitive verse, an airy chorus and some interesting instrumental passages, including John Gilbin's bags, as a welcome Scottish signature.

Mark Wilkinson's art for Fish's first album.

Also the lyrics are excellent, with the typical Fish's uneasiness towards life and social ties. Maybe you'll miss some more rythm here, but the pliable, intimate and painful voice of Mr. Dick will certainly compensate for that. Each time Fish has a good song like this one, I'm there to listen to him.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Signos en el cielo (Nexus, 1999)

This 11 minutes bombastic, symphonic track comes from Argtina and more exactly from "Detrás del umbral" ("Behind The Threshold", in English), the debut album of Nexus, a very interesting Buenos Aires based band. What I most like here is the wide range of musical solutions they adopt, including excellent keyboard effects and an effective rythm section. I also appreciate the strong and beautiful voice of Mariela González, actually fit for both delicate and heavy passages.

All is bombastic here, even the cover art...

Nexus are specially able to mix modern and vintage sounds, so that you'll find here electronic up to date effects and the good ol' Mellotron ones, distorted guitars and dreaming arpeggios, atmospheric moods and wild progressions. The lyrics in Spanish ("Signos en el cielo" means "Signs in The Sky", as you surely guessed) add something new to the big picture and there's a very good wall of sound in the most emphatic peaks of the song. Seems like the Giant Hogweed is back to strike its enemies.

Monday, 10 February 2014

En Castille (XII Alfonso, 1998)

I don't always like XII Alfonso when playing New Age (It's my fault, of course, not theirs), but I really adore their forlk oriented tracks, like this "En Castille", offered as a bonus track in their "Odysées" album, released in the year 1999, a project involving more than 20 musicians. Actually, our track was one year older than the album. Just listen to its joyful rythm, to its wide range of acoustic instruments and to all the creative interplays it features.

There are three different pressings of this album,
including different bonus tracks.

The Mediterranean atmosphere - not necessarily Spanish - reminds me of a summer sunset at the seaside. The Spanish guitar solo is simply splendid... and what about the mandolin? Wonderful. Sure, there's no rock'n'roll here, but I'm sure I will survive even without a single electric guitar. It's an enthralling instrumental song, rich and bright, caressing and optimistic. And you won't find this everywhere.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Resurrection Day (Blue Mammoth, 2011)

Blue Mammoth is a new and interesting Brazilian band, whose mix of melody and energy immediately intrigued me. Take this "Resurection Day", for example. It's a solid, traditional rock ballad, a slow tempo song with a beautiful guitar work and sung by Andre Micheliwith passion and inner strength.

A very beautiful cover art for Blue Mammoth's debut.
The dreaming guitar of Cesar Aires is also a winning point, so full bodied and so sensitive. Blue Mammoth go back to prog roots here, and if thete's a resurection in this song, it's the soul-prog coming back to life with a brand new brilliance. So, this track is kind of Procol Harum meet Dream Theater and the final effect is really good. If you think prog is an intellectual music with no room for passion, well, this song will make you think better.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Lizard (King Crimson, 1970)

"Lizard" is a 23 minutes suite, the title track of King Crimson's third album... and I scarcely have to explain why I put it here. Anyway, let's try. First things first: the first movement, called "Prince Rupert Awakes", is the main reason why I immedfiatelt liked this track. Jon Anderson sings this slow and hypnotic ballad like an angel, maybe an acid one, but still an agel. The following "Bolero - The Peacock's Tale" adds the magic of wind instruments to the previous beautiful theme, then comes the long and intellectual deconstuction of the melody.

King Crimson in their "Lizard" line-up (1970).

In fact, I must admit, "The Battle of The Glass Tears" is a very hard to catch part, with its free jazz moments and the fragments of melodies mixed with some jamming riffs. But this is also its charm: after a while, you litterally see the music melting before your very eyes (or ears?) and flowing away like tears. The arcane finale brings back the magic for a while, but it sounds now like black magic, a sweet, addicting poison. Very few suites played a more inspiring role than "Lizard" and for a reason. Better: for many reaons.

Friday, 7 February 2014

The Statue (Mindgames, 2006)

If I had to choose a single song as a modern prog rock digest, I'd probably pick up this Mindgame's epic. Taken from their second album "Actors in A Play", "The Statue" begins with a church organ intro, then goes through many different moods somewhat related to some of the greatest artists in our beloved genre, without being a derivative work. There's a fresh, even joyful feel throughout the 16 minutes of the song, a clever distribution of the musical ingredients and a highly creative mix of old and new sounds.

This was Mindgame's second album. I do recommend it.

Those Belgian guys like melodic prog, but they also know how important is to surprise the listener and they do it very, very well. This suite isn't a straight line, it's a zigzag through a puzzling land so that you'll find a great energy and something new at each and every corner. Last but not least, Mindgames play well and I especially like Bart Schram's clear and pleasant voice, Tom Truyers' manifold keyboards and Rudy Vander's beautiful electric guitar solos. Believe me or not, this is a brilliant track.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Awakening (Edison's Children, 2011)

Edison's Children are a very interesting collaboration between Pete Trewavas of Marillion and Eric Blackwood, an open minded artist from New York. I immediately liked their first album, "In The Last Waking Moments...", a concept based on a sci-fi canvas. "The Awakening" is a two part epic, featuring three other Marillion members as guest musicians: Ian Mosley, Steve Hogarth and Mark Kelly. This is probably the proggest track of the album and for sure the most intricated one, including many themes from the whole album, a highly creative bass line and a speldid Eric Blackwood's guitar solo dominating the second part of the suite, titled "Slow Burn".

Eric's wife, Wendy Farrell, provided this beautiful cover photo.

What I really like in this song is its emotional side, its intense suspended atmosphere and the vast range of acoustic and electronic sounds  it contains. When you play slow and ethereal music the risk is to get humdrum... well, I can't imagine something less monotonous than this track and its insensible crescendo from the dark intro to the melting and choral finale is one of the best things I listened to during the 2010s. Great. Simply great (IMHO).

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Pleine lune (Motis, 2011)

One of the most interesting last generation French bands, Motis play a Medieval prog full of energy and still linked to their National rock heritage. "Pleine lune" (meaning "Full Moon" in English), taken from the album "Ripaille", is a beautiful song, where a strongly cadenced verse, a sweet bridge and a rock chorus follow one other in a well conceived musical pattern. There's also a short enthralling instrumental passage I especially like, showing the remarkable skills of each musician. 

This is probably my favourite album by Motis.

You'll find here something of the dramatic singing of Ange combined with a large range of prog folk features, including some suggestive percussion tools and a beautiful flute. The sung melodies are both catchy and original, reinventing the Medieval ballad in a cleverly updated way. I can't but recommend this track and the whole dicography of Motis, a pleasant adventure through notes and eras.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

De Homine Urbano (Ache, 1970)

I'm finally adding a Danish band to my little collection. And with pleasure, because Ache are really worth more than a listening and also the Esoteric label remastered reissue of their first two albums. "De Homine Urbano" is the title track of Ache's debut work, a 19 minutes early symphonic suite in 10 movements. An excellent specimen of Hammond prog era, believe me. Not only Peter Mellin's organ, but all the instruments create a rather mysterious and almost mystical mood, where Torsten Olaffson's bass guitar shines with its creative lines and incessant embroidelries.

There must be an ocean of forgotten masterpieces over there...

It's a long and interesting trip into our own darkest side and Ache need no words to describe the torments and dreams hunting the so called civilised world. Each tempo change, each new theme, each organ chord, each guitar riff come like a surprise and give me a special pleasure. It's also interesting to know that this suite was originally conceived as the music for a ballet. Please discover this long forgotten pearl, you'll be back to it very soon.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Repent Walpurgis (Procol Harum, 1967)

This is probably my favourite Procol Harum's track, an instrumental piece dominated by Matthew Fisher's Hammond and Robin Trower's electric guitar. The delicious central piano interlude is also an excellent idea an the majestic pace of the song is simply stunning. No other tracks in 1967 were as prog as this one, no other tracks anticipated so many features of our genre, and after all just a few other bands played such an important role in building up a musical era.

Procol Harum released this 7" single for the Italian market,
including "Il tuo diamante" (an Italian version of "Shine on Brightly")
and - as a B side - "Repent Walpurgis" renamed "Fortuna".

Gary Brooker & friends succeeded in mixing up classical themes, pop-rock riffs and a pinch of folk. This track is still fresh today, but we should never forget how new and bold it was in 1967 and I'll never forget to thank Procol Harum for this. Ah, by the way, Walpurgis was a VIIIth Century British female missionary whose celebration day once coincided with the Witches' annual rendezvous with the devil.