Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The River (Like Wendy, 1999)

So many prog artists were - and still are - fascinated by streaming waters. Like Wendy are no exception, and one of their best tracks is actually about a river. These two Dutch musicians, Bert Heinen and Marien, were dedicated followers of Marillion, Pendragon and, of course, Genesis. They released a few good albums between the late '90s and the early 2000s. This song is from "Rainchild", their second studio work and I really like its bright sound and the lead dreaming guitar, so full of body. Even moving, I daresay, floating in a mist of keyboards.

Like Wendy released six studio albums between 1998 and 2005.

You don't need to be original to create a good song and an old prog lover as I am. sometimes just needs a warm, familiar arrangement, some well played instruments and a good melody to restore his brain and body. This is exactly what Like Wendy and "The River" have in store for us. So, if you feel like opening the gates of a well known and cherished garden, please come in, close your eyes, and...

Monday, 29 December 2014

An Island in The Darkness (Strictly Inc., 1995)

Strictly Inc. is a one album project by Genesis founder member Tony Banks, also featuring among others vocalist Jack Hues and long-standing Genesis live member Daryl Stuermer. It's one of the few long epics written by Banks for his solo albums (around 17 minutes) and, IMHO, likely his best one. There's an original mix of piano driven sections and mostly pop sung parts. Even if I don't especially like the drum machine, "An Island in The Darkness" includes a great melody, some beautiful instrumental sections and a wide range of compositional gimmicks.

Even if the album is credited to Strictly Inc., actually this 
can be considered as Tony Banks' seventh studio album.

As usual, Tony excels in painting obscure and melancholy atmospheres, misty and crepuscular landscapes. I'm deeply touched by his minor key chords and the longest instrumental passage of this song is simply outstanding. I'm pleased to mention some other strong points of the track: Daryl Stuermer's guitar solo, the piano intro and the sensitive Jack Hues' vocal performance, to name just a few of them. Definitely a highlight in Banks' career.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

El útimo sueño de Paganini (Galie, 1981)

Mexico has a special place in prog rock history: not only this Country gave birth to many good bands and musicians during the years, but this blossoming was more flushing in the '80s, while the rest of the world was (prematurely) pronouncing dead our favourite genre. Galie are among this backbeat generation of proggers, keeping the good old music alive. Their songs are plain, melodic and enthralling instrumental pieces, mixing melancholy and symphonic moods.

This was the first of a series of four self-titled albums.

This one, for example, has a strong classical inspiration (its title means "Last Paganini's Dream") and is reminiscent of some Italian prog songs from the '70s and  of Wakeman's touch. And I think there is a scent of Focus too. It features a beautiful theme and a sparkling series of variations in a naive but convincing succession of crescendos and largos. Probably a simple way to go progging, and IMHO a charming one.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

And I'll Recite An Old Myth from... (Providence, 1989)

These Japanese musicians released their debut album, including the long track I'm introducing here, in 1989, followed by a  second work eight years later. Then unfortunately they disbanded in the early 2000s. I didn't write "unfortunately" without any reasons, as this track should prove. It's a 20 minute epic, practically a well organized suite, including dreaming, sweet passages, guitar + mellotron explosions, a jazzy piano interlude and - of course - some bombastic, symphonic rock sections.

This abum includes four long, epic tracks.

The five members of Providence play as one, with no hedonistic tendencies, so that each note has its good reason to be there. Anyway, a special mention goes to Yoko Kubota's beautiful voice, both sensitive and aggressive. Last but not least, the melodies are well found and even better exploited in a variety of arrangements and variations. This ever changing song didn't change the History of prog, but certainly was an excellent addition to it.

Friday, 26 December 2014

The American Metaphysical Circus (The United States of America, 1968)

When it comes to proto-prog era, some American bands played an essential role in opening new musical paths and in exploring weird, psychedelic and/or electronic sounds. That's exactly the case with The United States of America, a band who released one album only in 1968, giving us one of the most complete reviews of late '60s musical state of the art. You'll find almost everything in this album and especially in this song: psychedelic, acid sounds, electronic keyboards, dissonant chords, eclectic cultural references.... in a word, all the rough materials prog rock is made of.

This is the 2004 CD version of the album, including some outtakes.
There was no guitar in this band, so they exploited every new and weird devices to replace it. There's a beautiful melodic line in this opening track, and some pleasant vocal harmonies too, but the musicians surround it with such an unusual deal of effects and sounds that the singers seem to be lost in an alien world, between the outer space and Disneyland. It reminds me of Zappa, of course, but I bet you'll find here some tasty prog previews too...

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Memento z banalnym tryptykiem (SBB, 1981)

I think this is one of the best prog tracks of the '80s and it comes from Poland. It's a 21 minute suite by SBB, one of the most important Eastern Europe bands ever. I like this suite for its mix of spacey, acoustic, folk and rock moments. And then the player are all so skilled and elegant that you couldn't skip one single second of the song. "Memento with a banal tryptych" (that's the English tranlation of the title) actually is a succession of beautiful melodies and well found atmospheres, an original blend of delicate fragrances having the flowery smell of the '70s, but also announcing something new and exciting.

"Memento" was the ninth SBB's studio album.

If you like pleasant and still challenging music, you surely know how difficult is to find those two features in a single composition. But here you'll enjoy an experimental mood well set into an agreeable pattern. And with a great voice and a symphonic twist, to top it all!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Hunting Girl (Jethro Tull, 1977)

Well, this is exactly what you expect on a Jethro Tull's song. Folk roots, baroque'n'roll interplays, catching sung melody, warm and rather aggressive vocals, good old keys with rather heavier guitars. Everything Jethro is here. It is difficult to resist: the rythm is enthralling and the mood changes come unexpected, ranging from rock'n'roll to medieval music. Energy everywhere, of course, but under control. So that each instrument has got its own right place, just like the low class boy coming across the hunting lady in Ian Anderson's lyrics.

Caught in the act!

And when the flute comes in to stress the socially uneven encounter, it seems to me that those lines perfectly describe old Ian's character:

I'm not inclined to acts refined, if thats how it goes.
Oh, high born hunting girl,
I'm just a normal low born so and so.

Low born, maybe. But let us judge about the refinement of your musical acts, Mr. Anderson!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Dance of The Demons (Etcetera, 1998)

I was pleasantly surprised when I first listened to this suite. I didn't know the Danish band behind it, nor their self titled debut album, but I listened to this track three times in a row. I like the way it develops each theme, exploiting its different features in both melodic and rythmic aspects. The track is divided into three parts (well, two parts and an interlude called In Medias Res), spanning over 21 minutes of good old symphonic rock with an original twist. All is well done here: the creative drumming background, the usual abundance of keyboards, the lively and eclectic guitars, even the saxophone coming in from time to time.

All Etcetera's albums feature this shortened Etc logo.

There are roughly three moods in this "Dance": a melodic one, a classically rock one and a slightly jazzy one. They're so well set in the big picture that you scarcely could be bored by it: tempos and instruments always change and the final effect is almost visual, with dark and bright moments following one another. If you ask me, listening to this is one of the best things you could spend your next 20 minute spare time.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Index II (Index, 2004)

Index are a very interesting Symphonic rock band from Brazil, as this suite, coming from the album "Identidade", likely will prove. Leaded by guitarist Jones Junior of Quaterna Réquiem fame, and keyboardist Otaviano Kury, those musicians like a vintage prog full of Hammond and Mellotron, but also dreamy guitar solos, flutes and a very good rythm section. All this track - split into four parts -  is equally divided between this lovefor the past heroes and a genuine quest for intricate plots and inner landscapes.

"Identidade" is the band's third studio album. 

Some passages are actually excellent, like the bass guitar solo starting around minute 9:10 or the following wall of sound graciously introduced by the flute. Everything is as it used to be, but there's that special freshness coming from Youth conviction and that bright taste springing out of the pleasure they enjoy by playing their music. A good trip into a past era we all love.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Untidal (WhyOceans, 2011)

This is what I call an intense, moving track. There are prog roots in it, but also many elements we'd call post-rock. It comes from "At Land", the debut album of a very interesting Chinese band called WhyOceans. The excellent fusion between keyboards and guitars, the delicate drumming work, the mood changes and the visionary impact of this music are indeniable.

Quite an interesting band, I even like this cover art.

For those into prog history, there are many links to some Scandinavian modern bands, but also a vague King Crimson taste and a Brian Eno distant echo. For sure, like for most of the Chinese contemporary prog acts, you'll find here the sense of wonder, an aerial dimension, even a spiritual quest. Nothing too intricated or Tricky, still some ten minutes of unusual and beautiful soundscapes.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Am I Very Wrong? (Genesis, 1969)

Their debut album "From Genesis to Revelation" isn't the best reason to love Genesis, as we all know. That doesn't mean this record hasn't any good music inside. Actually, "Am I Very Wrong?" features one of  my favourite melodies ever and even if the song is apparently plain in its structure - quite a piano and guitar driven ballad - it always charms me and is worth some consideration.

Surely not one of the most elaborate album covers...

To explain the fascination this track turns on, its good melody wouldn't be enough. There are also a very good choice of chords, an original 12 string guitar background, and - last but not least - a sensitive vocal performance by Peter Gabriel. The vocal harmonies of the chorus are another pleasant surprise, making an unusual contrast with the verses, and introducing a bright tambourine too. The instrumental intro (mostly a Jonathan King's addiction) is one of the best ones in the album, featuring two pianos, one of which was handcrafted to imitate  the tone of a harpsichord. All is well done and announces more to come. So much more...

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Horsemen to Symphinity (Windchase, 1977)

You'll find one album, just the one called "Symphinity", in this Australian band from the '70s, but in fact they were kind of a reincarnation of Sebastian Hardie, likely the most celebrated prog band in their Country (and also represented in this little blog). This track shows how much those musicians were influenced by contemporary UK bands, especially Camel, I daresay.

Pyramids, UFOs, ancient warriors... what else?
But you'll also find many original features, especially when Mario Millo's guitar comes in. There's a long and beautiful electric guitar solo in this song I can only admire. And the final part of this performance has a bonus gem: the bass / guitar interplay. Actually this is a perfect example of creative, free, enjoyable progressive rock, coming from the years where it was really difficult to get noticed... but those guys surely did so and they still stand among the most beautiful pearls of the Southern Emisphere.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

La tour haute (Minimum Vital, 1987)

This lively, beautiful track comes from Minimum Vital's debut album, called "Les saisons marines". The title (meaning "The Tall Tower") immediately suggests the Medieval and folk mood of the song, but there is more than this in this 10 minute instrumental. Firstly, there is the splendid fusion of the traditional instruments and the synth, imitating ancestral sounds and adding a special flavour to the track. It isn't so common to find acoustic guitar and synth interplays, after all.

Since their first album, this band foud its peculiar way to prog.

And what could I say of the ever changing drumming? In a way, Christophe Godet enlightens and enhances the music, stressing all the passages with essential but never trivial rythmic solutions. As always with this French band, there's a Mediterranean mood, a blue and green shade, maybe the Sea Seasons the album title conjures up. If ever there is a dancing way to prog, you'll find it here.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Valley of The Shadows (Cairo, 1998)

Taken from Cairo's "Conflict And Dreams" album, this track perfectly illustrates the highly dynamic kind of prog these American musicians released in their three studio album, between 1994 and 2001. The sung sections and vocal harmonies are obviously reminiscent of Yes, but this "Valley of Shadows" has an original up tempo,intricate and enthralling structure I really like. Bret Douglas surely is a good singer, as he mixes very well power and sensibility in his performance and the backing voices are also very good.

"Conflict And Dreams" was Cairo's second studio album.

Mark Robertson's keyboards rule the track, but the band act as one, especially when they open the listener's view over wide horizons and distant landscapes. I daresay Cairo found a perfect balance between vintage sounds - mostly Keys - and up to date solutions, that's to say between symphonic rock and neo-prog. For sure, if you like fast fingers and virtuoso interplays, devilish piano and flushing arrangements, you won't be  disappointed by this.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Bitter Suite (Marillion, 1985)

One of my favourite (neo-)prog songs ever, this "Heart of Lothian" is the symbol of Marillion's sensitive, romantic and somehow aggressive style. A thrilling pathos rules the entire track, supporting the autobiographical lyrics by Fish, whose vocals are both deep and biting... even his narrating intro, probably the only prog spoken section I adore. And the J'entends ton coeur passage is one of the most touching and sincere anthems of the '80s prog rock, IMHO, a bleeding heart's cry. Then, what about Steve Rothery's solo? Or of the intro of the last section?

An early Marillion press photo: the way they were...

Being a short suite inside an album that's kind of a suite itself, this song is actually divided into three parts: I. Brief Encounter, II. Lost Weekend, III. Blue Angel. It is difficult for me to select one of these as the best one, as they're all so enthralling and melodically rich that I'll never be tired to listen to them. And to say it all, I'll never be tired to listen to the whole "Misplaced Chilhood" album. Will you?

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Good at The Art of Surviving (Notturno Concertante, 1993)

Lucio Lazzaruolo and Raffaele Villanova, the core duo behind the Italian act "Notturno Concertante", surely are among the most coherent and interesting musicians of their generation. "Good at The Art of Survival" comes from their debut album "Erewhon" and it features many of the band's trademark features. Firstly, you'll appreciate here the keen piano and guitar work, kind of a special touch , giving a nocturnal mood to many songs of theirs. Then, listen to the tempo changes, always coming in the right time, but never too sharp. Last but not least, see how Lucio's lyrics describe, with no indulgence at all, the criminal and narrow minded outlook of mafia's adepts.

"Erewhon" features Riccardo Mannelli's effective artwork.

I really like the way Notturno deal with some strong concepts in their albums, keeping such a delicate musical approach. This song flows gently through its different moods, respectively ruled by classic guitar, guest Betty Iandolo's voice and keyboards, so that the track's last note is just like a dream's last image. Don't loose this trip, my prog friends!

Monday, 8 December 2014

Septagone (No Name, 1995)

Listening to some easy going neo-prog is something that chills me out. And when this music is well written and well played, I daresay it's kind of a cure to me. No Name come from Luxembourg and all their records pay loving respects to Fish era Marillion's music, even if their most recent albums are a little more synth-oriented. This isn't necessarily a reason to reject them, as No Name have their own intense and passionate way to make prog. This "Septagone" is a good way to discover tha band's approach, with all its keys progressing and its very good tempo changes.

A Victorian cover art... just "la Belle Époque"!

The track comes from the album "The Secret Garden" and I like the way the band exploits both acoustic and electric instruments to build up a dreamy rock song with good interplays and solos. The Victorian mood of the album shows itself then and now, especially in the atmospheric bridges and Patrick Kiefer's voice has a good balance between sweet and agressive tones. All in all, some pleasant 6 minutes of music, IMHO. That doesn't always happen, nowadays.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Iron Butterfly, 1968)

Progressive rock didn't come out of the blue in the late '60s. The role played by seminal bands like Iron Butterfly is essential, IMHO, to correctly set this new genre in the big picture of its era. Coming from San Diego, these musicians, leaded by vocalist and keyboardist Doug Ingle, released a fantastic 17 minute title track in their second and still highly appreciated album. The song occupies the whole B side of the LP and its title is a mispronunciation of "In The Garden of Life", including a Spanish contamination of the last word. A very short version of this suite will be also released as a successful single.

It's a most psychedelic cover art, isn't it?

You'll find everything late '60s here, I mean it. From the captivating opening riff to the long drum solo and from spacey organ atmospheres to intricate bass / guitar / keyboard interplays.The circular pattern of the song, opening and closing with two similar sections, was also going to be a typical prog feature.  Doug's vocals are rather on the heavy side, and this makes a pleasant contrast with the slow tempo passages. A psychedelic monument announcing both prog and hard rock, something all music lovers should know, if you ask me.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Limites (AlexL, 2004)

The Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer Alexandre Loureiro released his only solo album "Triz" with a crowd of other musicians in 2004 and it seems to me this record still represents an original and eclectic approach to progressive rock. Take this track, called "Limites" ("Limits" in English), for example. It starts like a Genesis' Trespass-era song, including pleasant vocals in Portuguese, then an instrumental bridge reminds me of Robert Fripp's most dreaming moments.

"Triz" includes 12 sketches exploring many sides of prog.

When vocals come back, the harmonies sound a little like Gentle Giant, then the delicate folkish touch comes in once again to end up the song like a fairytale. Many influences, but a strong, definite personality re-interpretating the whole prog history in a modern and essential way. I actually recommend this song - and the album too - to all my most open-minded friends.

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Emperor in His War Room (Van Der Graaf Generator, 1970)

One of my favourite prog songs ever. And that's saying something. The first sung lines are irresistible to me, with their sad and almost liturgical taste, then Peter Hammill goes through the first section (that's called The Emperor) running up and down his vocal extension and the listener's spine. The vocal harmonies, the keyboard backgrounds, the instrumental bridge between this part and the second one (The Room), well, all is highly emotional and bloody well done.

A wonderful season for VDGG... and for us all!

And when the first theme comes back, I'm actually KO... it's pure progressive juice to my lips, a fatal succession of dark and lights, whispers and cries, stops and progressions. No, I don't need to say more: when good melodies, skilled performances and emotions meet in a single song, that is my song. And something tells me it isn't only mine... but I'm not a jealous guy, after all!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Révolution Industrielle (Jean-Michel Jarre, 1988)

Jean-Michel Jarre signed so many electronic suites that I couldn't easily choose my favourite. But this one surely is a strong contender in such a competition. Coming from the album "Révolutions", this track - also known with the international title of "Industrial Revolution" -  is divided into four parts, the Ouverture, followed by Parts 1, 2 and 3, for a total running time of 16:49 minutes.

This was Jarre's ninth studio album, if you include the
mysterious "Music for Supermarkets".

All the main features of Jarre's style are there, including the lushing effects and the visual sound, but here you'll find a little more up tempo passages and a strong, articulated architecture we can easily label as symphonic. The different parts build up a  powerful, still also sensitive track, ruled by the Roland D-50 synthesizer and by many excellent melodic inventions. If you like Jarre and his colourful world, this is definitely for you.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Hallelujah (Little Tragedies, 2011)

Another excellent proof by Russian band Little Tragedies, something full of old good prog rock, but also reminiscent of Eastern European folk music. This is taken from the album called "Obsessed" and it actually became an obsession to me since the first time I listened to it. The joyful theme on which the track is based is elegant and enthralling. It includes some original variations on both popular and cultivated sides, involving all the instruments.

"Obsessed" was Little Tragedies' ninth studio album.
 It's a hymn to life, a real Hallelujah sung to the world using all the progressive tools. Even the rather short duration time is perfectly fit to the final effect, as unnecessary repetions or incongruous interludes are simply cut off. That's why this instrumental goes directly to the listener's heart. For a band accostumed to long and intricated suites, this is aperfect way to remember how beautiful prog can be in its shortest sketches when a good melody and a bunch of good players are involved.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Forse le lucciole non si amano più (Locanda delle Fate, 1977)

The title track of "Forse le lucciole non si amano più" (something like "Perhaps the fireflies don't love themselves anymore" in English) is one of the most romantic and atmospheric tracks in the entire Italian prog discography, IMHO. Leonardo Sasso's strong voice shines over the mellow musical background and some dreaming instrumental interludes enrich the song. The piano and the flute kind of draw the fireflies' aerial paths in a nocturnal sky, while the rest of the band set up some fluid tempo changes and more picturesque sketches.

The band came back in 1999 after more than 20 years of silence. 
But their debut album still stands as an Italian prog masterpiece.

Really, this is a song carrying the listener into a nostalgy dimension, a fairy world outside time and space. Such a pity this beautiful album had no success in its era. The prog world discovered it some twenty years later. Well, never too late, I suppose.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Starship Trooper (Yes, 1971)

Taken from "The Yes Album", this song has everything - and more - to be considered as an all time prog rock classic. Set up like a suite in three movements (Life Seeker, Disillusion and Würm), the song is inspired by a Robert Heinlein's SF novel published in 1959 that also won the Hugo award. Mainly written by Jon Anderson and Chris Squire, this actually is a collective song, graced by the skills and the ideas of the whole band. The rock background is enthralling, strong, even whimsical, following the band's habits. I daresay the best feature in this track is the ever changing tempo, something we also see in mood and style.

The "Life Seeker" section of this suitealso was released
as the B-side of "I've Seen All Good People" 7" single.

Nonetheless, the listener perceives (well, at least I perceive) kind of a crescendo, leading to the last, bombastic section. I also think this is one of the best examples of interaction between lyrics and music, both concurring to the final, deliciously intricated effect. And in the middle of this whirling sounds, there you are some of the most beautiful and homesick Anderson's lines:

Speak to me of summer, long winters longer than time can remember,
Setting up of other roads, travel on in old accustomed ways.
I still remember the talks by the water, the proud sons and daughters that,
In the knowledge of the land, spoke to me in sweet accustomed ways.