Monday, 30 September 2013

Erpland (Ozric Tentacles, 1990)

Prog? Space? Ambient? Post-rock avant la lettre? Ozric Tentacles have a genre of their own, or maybe morer than one. Each Ozric's song is a world apart and I introduce here the title track of one of their most known albums, "Erpland", released in 1990. If this one isn't prog, it is certainly something akin. It's a beautiful rock song, with a well found recurring guitar riff and kind of a wall of sound throughout the track.

In this album cover appears for the first time Erp (right),
the character that would become one of the group's trademarks.

Moreover, rythms and the themes change and cross themselves, building up an original and rather intricate plot. But energy is the winning point. There's a mighty and joyful spirit in "Erpland", a colourful push reminding me some '70s West Coast band or an early '80s British Art-rock group. Be as it may, those English boys once again prove themself an eclectic and highly creative act, one of the last European cult bands.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Stranger in The Looking Glass (Dead Heroes Club, 2009)

When I bought the album including this song - titled "A Time of Shadow" - I was just expecting another neo-prog issue with just the extra feature of the Irish origin of the band. Well, this was a neo-prog album, but I foud more than this. Take this song, for example. It starts with a mysterious atmosphere, not so uncommon in neo-prog tracks, but when Liam Campbell's voice comes in there's an unexpected change.

Ted Nasmith's cover art for "A Time of Shadow".
This man has a strong and slightly hoarse voice with a r'n'b scent, leaving a special mark on the whole song, kind of Pendragon meets black music. The rest of the track is also very interesting, including sweet chords and psychedelic guitar riffs, surpriseing tempo changes, let alone a pretty melody. Neo-progressive this is, but with a temper of its own.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

One Time (King Crimson, 1994)

I'm in love with this song since I first listened to. It exists in two different studio versions, the first one coming from the "Vroom" EP (1994) and the second one available in the album "Thrack" (1995). As I equally like both, I let you decide wich is your favourite one. For me, I think the "Vroom" version is warmer and I really like the sung part arrangements, while the "Thrack" one is lighter and features a more finished instrumental section. But this is just my humble opinion.

The unfolded booklet of the "Vroom" EP.

For sure, you'll find an outstanding melody in this song: both verse and chorus are so well written that I can't stand re-listening to the track two or three times in a row, something I rarely do. Adrian Belew's vocals are clean and definite as usual, let alone the rest of the band's performance (Levin, Bruford, Fripp, Gunn  and Mastellotto... kind of a wonder team!). Getting more and more experimental and metal, during the '90s the Crimson King never forgot to offer at least one or two "traditional" songs in each album. And they did very, very well. 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Depuis l'automne (Harmonium, 1975)

"Si on avait besoin d'un cinquième saison" (meaning "If We Needed A Fifth Season") is one of the best appreciated prog albums by a Non-English speaking band. And Harmonium deserve this, as the beautiful "Depuis l'automne" proves only too well. Describing the autumnal mood, this 10 minute song is a gentle ballad with long and nostalgy instrumental sections.

Some of the beautiful illustrations inside the gatefold cover of
"Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison".

Mellotron and acoustic instruments draw the warm atmosphere of the falling season adding a deep feeling of solitude and introspection that's another winning point of the song. As I like the whole song, it isn't easy for me to point out its best features, but I can't forbear to mention the long half-way instrumental passage, a real treat with its slow and winding architecture and the creative use of vocal harmonies. Definitely, a pivotal song.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Köhntarkösz Part 1 (Magma, 1974)

The Freng band Magma are rightly considered as the weirdest and most stimulating act of their generation and this 15 minute Köhntarkösz first installment definitely proves it. As most of their discography, this is part of a big picture about planet Kobaïa and their inhabitants' strange habits. Written by the band's drummer and leader Christian Vander, this track is sung in Kobaïan language, such as invented by Vander himself.

Mysterious, liturgical, martial, arcane... in a word: Magma!

The subtitle of the song explains this is the musical description of the ritual  access to the local hero Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré's tomb. We can roughly divide this epic into three sections: the first one is a slow and liturgical, mostly choral and arcane, the second one slightly moves towards a jazzy and rhythmic mood, while the last part combines the features of the previous ones with an extra martial accent. The whole track is ruled by Christian Vander's creative, unusual drumming, but all the band members contribute to the final effect.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Oro caldo (Osanna, 1972)

This is the first track of "Palepoli", one of the best and most original Italian prog albums throughout the '70s. Osanna start here a three-track concept about old and new citizen life, comparing modern and traditional habits and also modern and traditional music. In fact, the suite's title Palepoli means "old town", while the the name of the band's home city - Naples - comes from Neapolis or "new town". So, electric guitar solos follow flute passages, heavy riffs interwine sweet melodies and jazzy jams break acoustic plots.

A recent Lino Vairetti's photo. With Neapolitan masks, of course.

Contrast being the main subject of the song, the listener faces many changes and plunges into different worlds, all of them carefully drawed by a variety of instruments and especially by an ubiquitous Mellotron. If the latter provides many lunar atmospheres along with flute and acoustic guitar, the rythm section and the electric guitar duo are responsible for the roughest moments. In addiction to all this, a Mediterranean flavour (Neapolitan, but also Arabic) features the track and justifies its title, as "Oro caldo" meaning "Warm Gold". Last but not least, this track was gaced live by Lino Vairetti's theatrical performance including masks and fancy dresses.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Sounds of Passion (Coda, 1986)

This long suite (about 30 minutes, a Prologue and four Movements) is the title track of the Dutch band Coda's debut album. Having said that this music actually dates back to 1983, one should expect a neo-prog release, similar to Marillion, IQ and so on. Not at all. This is a purely synphonic epic rather similar to late 70s groups like Enid. It's a beautiful trip in a suspended and arcane world, often sweet, always intriguing.

Pastel colours, fairy tales... the cover art matches with the music.

Composed by keyboardist Erik de Vroomen, this suite is a delicate but never boring watercolour painting, pleasant and rich, a succession of different sketches where a choice of keyboards provides the main course and the other instruments add some very good treats. I like everything here, apart, maybe, the spoken intro, something this track didn't really need, IMHO. Anyway, no doubt fo me: this epic is one of the finest moments of a difficult and underrated era in the history of prog.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Suite "Ran" 組曲「乱」(Bi Kyo Ran 美狂乱, 1983)

Taken from the album "Parallax", the third release of this Japanese band and their second studio work, "Suite Ran" is one of the best pages in the often underrated book of the far eastern archipelago progressive rock. Strongly influenced by King Crimson, Bi Kyo Ran has its own trade mark, made of a well found mix of melody and experimental passages, as this 21 minute instrumental epic proves very well.

"Parallax" is one of the best known Japanese prog albums ever.

It is divided in 5 movements, each one with a distinctive mood. The first one is based on an excellent keyboards plot, plain and effective, stretched and almost geometric, then - on the second and third movements - the rythm section (the group was a trio in this period)  increases its presence on a mysterious atmosphere with unpredictable and pleasant developments, including a jazzy jamming. The experimentation reaches its summit in the fourth movement, where a powerful crescendo based on six notes overwhelms the listener and when the noise seems to rule the track, the volume suddenly falls down and after some clock effects gives way to a sweet and poetic finale. How many surprises, what a good music!

Computer Love / Computerliebe (Kraftwerk, 1981)

Another long disputed question: are Kraftwerk a prog band? Once again, I don't know. For sure, this track contains may typically prog features, such as highly creative keyboard sounds, tempo and mood changes (yes, Kraftwerk did so more often than you think) and a very good melody coming in several variations. As the band only employed electronic instruments, you won't fine here the most usual rock highlights: no guitar solos, nor physical drumming here.

How could we forget these guys...
...or this single version of the song?
That said,  no one before or after them took such an advantage of vocal filters, special audio effects, drum programming and so on, turning each song into a musical adventure... and this is exactly what prog is meant to be. And I like this song in particular for its romantic rendering of electronic music... am I too smoochy?

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Life Is A Long Song (Jethro Tull, 1971)

This is one of the most loved three minute prog songs ever... and it deserves it. This gentle ballad provided an evergreen standard when it comes to prog folk, a very fruitful one. The band originally released it in the 1971 EP featuring the same name, them included it in several anthologies and compilations.

The original cover of "Life Is A Long Song" EP.
It peaked at #11 in the UK charts.

The track is certainly on Jethro Tull's soft side, but - in spite of the orchestral arrangements - it isn't a mellow one. I'd rather say it's a sweet and nostalgy song, with  lyrics wandering through sadness and hope. The short and airy refrain fades out in a guitar chord and still reminds us how that life's a long song, but the tune ends too soon for the song. Really, one can't be tired of a such a song!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Initiation (Cast, 1997)

Cast is not only the best known Mexican prog band, but also a long lasting and prolific one. This instrumental "Initiation", the opening track from "Angels and Demons" perfectly explains the reasons of their durable success. I rarely listened to such a strong, vibrant and colourful intro, some 8 minutes of classical and intricated plots where all the instruments compete in a bombastic musical race. I'd like to point out some of the song best features.

Cast released "Angels And Demons" in 1997.

First things first: the drum intro. It's a great work by Antonio Bringas, who dictates broken rhythms and provides the hooks on which the keyboards hang up their main riff. This is another good point: Luis Alfonso Vidales' fingers fly on the keyboards and his style is reminiscent of Tony Banks'... not a deadly sin, after all. Last, some excellent guitar solos provided by Francisco Hernandez Reyes, giving a passionate melody and a deeper soul to the track. So, if you like prog as it used to be and maybe should always be, this track is for you.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Lost without a Trace (Wigwam, 1971)

One of the shortest tracks in this collection - just 2'29" - and one of the sweetest and warmest ballads I've ever listened to. The Finnish band Wigwam was one of the first non-Briton bands to release fully progressive albums between 1970 and 1971 and they're worth more than a single listening. This "Lost without a Trace" from their third album "Fairyport" isn't among their most celebrated songs, but I'm charmed by its muffled atmosphere and the effective, simple arrangement including piano and acoustic guitar.

Wigwam's line up circa "Fairyport" era.

When I need a little rest I put on this track and I'm gently carried away in an old and cosy drawing room, in a winter fadind day, warmed by a lively fire. The melody is really beautiful, Jukka Gustavson's voice is pleasant and sensitive and after all nothing so complicated than setting up a plain song. I highly recommend this after a progressive epic track...

Sunday, 15 September 2013

As The River Runs (Simon Says, 2008)

"Tardigrade" is probably the Swedish Simon Says' most successful album to date and this is my favourite track in it. Being a neo-prog band, Symon Says don't make any musical revolution and follow in some well known tracks, but they do this very, very well. In "As The River Runs" there's anything you could ask for in a prog rock song: melodic and well sung themes, jazzy bridges, surprising changes, walls of sound, fast and slow passages, keyboard progressions and guitar solos.

"Tardigrade" is the third Simon Says' album.

Listening this for the first time, some could take it as a beautiful but rough rhapsody, sort of a container track, full of ideas and with a lack in organisation. Well, that's not true, and a further listening shows a well structured song, with the different phases set in a carefully chosen order, aimed to a winding and growing intensity. This effect is increased by some fair internal returns and - most of all, IMHO - by a discreet and effective piano. The final result is a flush, rich and brilliant synphonic rock mini-suite. For me, that's enough.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Leave It Where It Can Stay (Machiavel, 1976)

"Leave It Where It Can Stay" was the closing track of Machiavel's self named debut album, released in 1976. I immediatly liked it when I first listened to it and I know this could be because of some sections of the song reminiscent of this or that prog band, but there is more than this. I really like the slow and solemn rythm of this track and I also appreciate its melody, a very sensitive one. If nothing's really new in this 8'30" composition, I daresay nothing's out of place.

I never liked this cover, the music inside is far better.

If the first sung part is a good one, sort of a sad ballad, the second and final one, a long instrumental ruled by a slightly acid guitar solo, is a real treat. True, some real life effects (a door opening on a windy weather) sound strange, but Jack Roskam's guitar is so dreamy and so sincerely sad and Albert Letecheur's keys are so sweet that I can't resist and restart the track. Well, Iìm probably gone nuts, but this Belgian track has won my heart.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Song for America (Kansas, 1975)

This is the 10 minute title track of Kansas' second album and one of their most enthralling ones, IMHO (and maybe their most Yes-influenced one). Full of rythm and changes, featuring a rampant Steve Walsh' vocal performance and the well known Rob Steinhardt's violin, this song also shines for its stunning instrumental middle section. Here the band's creativity achieves its top: a series of piano melodic chords lead to some bass driven folk riffs and finally here's the violin and the main theme coming back.

Peter Lloyd provided this somehow disquieting cover art.

In short, this is a pefect specimen of Kansas' prog rock, a crossover kind of prog, where synphonic arrangements meet jazz, country and melodic rock. This song is also a two-faced portrait of America, describing its natural beauties and its darkest historical pages, with the transition from the early days of human colonisation and respect for the land and the recent concrete and asphalt devastations. As usual for Kansas, good music to enjoy and good lyrics to think over.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Kayleigh (Marillion, 1985)

Well, I couldn't skip this one in my collection. "Kayleigh" isn't just a song, it's kind of a symbol, the mark of progressive rock re-birth after its too hastily declared death. His reaching # 2 in the UK charts and many other National charts was the living proof that someone still liked the genre, as the relative album "Misplaced Childhood" huge success confirmed. But, of course, "Kayleigh" is also an excellent song, based on an original rythmic background and featuring a very good melody sung by Fish in all the splendour of his passionate and sensitive style. Steve Rothery's guitar also increases the artistic merit of the whole song.

Mark Wilkinson's cover for "Kayleigh" single...
...and a detail of Market Square new pavement in Galashiels.
The story of Fish and his ex girlfriend, as narrated in "Kayleigh", keeps a special place in prog history and also was worth a monument, as the Scottish town of Galashiels inscribed the song lyrics in the pavement of its Market Square, the very place where the romance began some decades ago. That said, I ask you once again: could I skip this song?

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Jeszcze jeden dzień (Collage, 1990)

There's a long debate among prog rock fans about this theme: can a good prog song be done lasting less than 5 minutes? I think Collage provided a very good and positive reply to this in their debut album "Basnie" with the song I'm introducing here, "Jeszcze jeden dzien" ("One More Day" in English). It's an energetic and compact opening track, including all the quintessential neo.prog features: splendid keys, wall of sound, catchy melody, good vocals, instrumental bridges, enthralling riffs and so on. Plus, no prolixity.

I recommend the 2003 remastered edition of "Basnie".

The musical ideas are well developed without any pointless loss of time, just the essential in the right place and time. You feel the joy of building up a song and performing it, you're dragged inside the band's mood and you don't need any further trwirls: the song is complete and perfectly done. This fast tempo track will always be one of my favourite Polish prog songs ever.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Ciccada (Ciccada, 2010)

This excellent instrumental is the opening track of "A Child in The Mirror", the first album of the Greek band Ciccada (a name they seem to like very much). Even if we don't enjoy here Evangelia Kozoni's beautiful voice, I recommend this "Ciccada" to every prog fans for its elegance and its balance between classical and folk roots. This, with the pleasant plot of themes and instruments, is the simple and effective secret of the song.

...And a beautiful cover too, provided by Davide Guidoni.

A Renaissance mood runs throughout the composition and meets a popular vein, resulting in kind of modern troubadours' music, to employ the very words printed inside the CD booklet. Thus, Melllotron and clarinet, bass and acoustic guitar, they all play together and if ever you feel like dancing, well, don't worry: it's another progmagic trick!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Anamnesis (White Willow, 2000)

This soft and mysterious track comes from "Sacrament", White Willow's third album. This Norwegian band knows too well how to revive folk-prog roots and melt Crimsonian dreams and Scandinavian darkness. "Anamnesis" has the sad and nostalgic taste of a fading winter day and also the smell of a fairy tale, with just a hint of wicked inside.

No, not the Addams. White Willow in a "Sacrament" booklet picture.

Sylvia Erichsen's vocals are exactly the same: sweet and devilish. But also the long instrumental final section is a wonder with its old fashioned keyboards and the winds drawing a hypnotic musical arabesque. Nine minutes of ancient lullabies along a river flowing from the natural world to an unknown otherworldly place. Out of this world, but deep inside human souls.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

1974 (O Terço, 1975)

"Criaturas da noite" ("Night Creatures") by O Terço is one of the best brazilian prog albums I've ever heard and "1974" is by far my favourite song in the band's production. It's a dreamy and melodic track, not too far from the other latin language countries productions of the same period. It's an instrumental song but there are pleasant choral arrangements similar to Yes but catchier and more relaxed. What I most appreciate here are the complex architecture exploiting very simple ideas and the main theme recurring variations, let alone some beautiful guitar solos.

"Criaturas da noite" was  O Terço's third album.

There are so many different moods in this song, so many unpredictable changes in tempo, instruments and even genre, going from psycheledia to funky and from arena rock to floyd-esque atmospheres. Really, I can't be bored by such an iridescent composition and each time I listen to these 12 minutes of good music I enjoy them more.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Allons z'enfants (Mona Lisa, 1977)

This track, the 6 minute opening song from "Le Petit Violon de Monsieur Gregoire" is probably my favourite one in Mona Lisa's production. Simple as it may appear, it's full of pleasant surprises and original musical tricks. The theatrical vocal performance and the keyboard background are the first features capturing the listener's attention, but there more than this... 

Philippe Huart graced the album with this beautiful cover.
There's a fully melodic theme I adore, a rich and complex rythmic section, a spelndid guitar / keys dialogue, some clever tempo changes, so many variations on the martial tone, and that spendid bass line towards the end of the song! Rock and mellow were never so well together. There's a naive and young energy in this song, I think it captures the spirit of the prog golden era, the will to go beyond the usual rock music, in search of something beautiful and new.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Squonk (Genesis, 1976)

This is probably the song that proved, back in 1976, how Genesis without Peter Gabriel were still Genesis. Based on a captivating and syncopated melody and a series of guitar & key riffs, the track is full of inventions and changes. Phil Collins' drums are always there, in fast and slow passages, giving the song a special and lively soul. Obviously, Tony Banks' chords are perfect and never trivial, but this is the band's trademak, after all. 

The hunter and the squonk in "A Trick of The Tail" cover art.

Mike Rutherford's lyrics are about a strange and ugly creature belonging to the American lore, a solitary and sad animal stupidly killed by men who can't really get it, 'cause death melts its body in a pool of tears. It's a compact and well structured track, fascinating and new fot its era, destined to act as a guiding light for the neo-prog bands of the '80s and immediatly welcomed as a live favourite  by Genesis fandom. It deserves it all.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Paraiso remoto (Canarios, 1974)

This is the first installment of Canario's "Ciclos", based on Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" and released in 1974. This first part (or primera transmigración) of the Spanish band's masterpiece is a 16 minute suite in six movements and starts with a long series of effects finally introducing a very inusual melody sung by a female voice and called grito primario (primary  scream). Then, Vivaldi's Spring main theme comes in in a beautiful electric version with guitars, keys and drums weaving their sounds. Canarios perfectly represent the festive mood of the Italian composer's masterpiece.

The cover artwork of "Ciclos", no doubt one of the most known
Spanish prog-rock albums.

After this classic cover, Rudmini Sukmawati's soprano voice comes back with a stunning and theatrical performance, followed by the rest of Vivaldi's Spring theme, initially played by classical instruments, then by electric ones with some pleasant variations. This epic definitely proves how charming the classical-rock fusion can be when done with pure and unaffected joy. The joy of playing music and, of course, the joy of enjoying it.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Time (Pink Floyd, 1973)

This timeless classic comes from "The Dark Side of The Moon" and in the original album version also includes a final reprise of "Breathe" for a 7 minute total running time. There are at least three good reasons to love this song as many generations actually did. First: the music. Both the ballad (verse and chorus) and the instrumental passages are perfect, with their low swinging and sad tempo. Second: the lyrics. These are in the well known Roger Water's pessimistic vein and describe the eternally lost battle of man against time. Third: the sound. The sound engineer Alan Parsons did a great work here (and not only here), adding effects, polishing each note and each second of the track, from the intro clocks to the stunning passage from the "Breathe" coda to the following song "The Great Gig in The Sky".

"Time" was also released in a 7" single edit of 3' 33".
I highly recommend the album version, of course.

"Time" is a pearl in Pink Floyd's career, a strong song with a studied alternation of tight, even claustrophobic moments and bright, melodic openings. And, last but not least, it's a moving song, about something concerning everybody:

And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.