Monday, 30 November 2015

Origins / Under The Wheel / Mechanical Landscape I (Códice, 1999)

I won't say once again how many just-one-album bands I discovered and apreciated during the years, as you'll find most of them in my blog. Better spend my space here talking of Códice and their beautiful symphonic double CD titled "Alba y Ocaso" ("Dawn and Dusk" in English). It's a remarkable example of classically driven prog rock from Mexico, a Country featuring so many good and underrated bands.

"Alba y Ocaso" spans over some 2 hours of music.

Not only this track has got three titles, but it also belongs to a longer suite called Iconos that isn't listed ont the original CD. Actually, this triple-titled song is Heaven for any progfan: tempo changes, beautiful acoustic sections between electric ones, interesting plots and so on. Last but not least, these musicians know how to play very well. That's why I recommend to your attention the entire album.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Umbría / Bajo la sombra y el sueño (Alameda, 1983)

The lushing "Rock Andaluz" had so many good bands and artists on the foreground that even a dedicated prog fan could neglect a good deal of excellent musicians. I'll try to skip such a risk with this very good song by Alameda, taken from the album "Noche Andaluza"(that's "Andalusian Night"). It's a two-song sequence including a dreamy spanish guitar intro (played by Paco de Lucia, one of the finest guitarists ever) and followed by a classic, epic example of symphonic "Andaluz"rock song.

"Noche andaluza" was the fourth studio album by Alameda.

This one is so well arranged and organised in its different parts that I'm always moved when I listen to it. José Roca sings it with his usual pathos and a clever keyboards / guitar plot turns the track into an actual progressive piece of music. That's why you don't need to be into Spanish traditional folk to appreciate this song.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Muscarin Madness (In The Labyrinth, 2002)

Multi-instrumentalist Peter Lindahl is the brain behind In The Labyrinth, a Swedish folk-prog oriented project that releases fairy and pleasant musical sketches like this "Muscarin Madness", coming from the album "Dryad". So perfectly Swedish, this song also has strong Eastern hints and - as usual with Lindahl - a good deal of different suggestions.

I also like the cover arts of this project's albums.

The sung part is a perfect folk ballad, preceded and enriched here and there by delicate and well played instrumental parts. It sounds like Bo Hansson or like some fairy songs by Jethro Tull, but featuring a perfectly up-to-date sound. This song proves that you can be inspired by ancient and fairy tales and release plain and songs with just a bonus magical atmosphere added. This is In The Labyrinth's secret, I think: sweet but never sweetish, prog but never pomp.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Hanging Tree (Arena, 1998)

"The Visitor" by Arena is an album I like very much and this song, "The Hanging Tree", perfectly represents its richly flavoured mood. It starts like an atmospheric ballad, then a thick and epic wall of sounds comes in like an approaching storm. Soon after a theatrical vocal passage, here you are a Floydian guitar solo, a pleasant return of the first sung theme, another wall of sound and a bombastic chorus, followed by the final guitar solo.

The 1998 line-up: Wrightson, Mitchell, Nolan, Jowitt & Pointer.

This flushing material is so well organised, so beautifully composed and arranged and so coherent that I used to listen compulsively to this song back in the late '90s and I still put it on from time to time. Probably because of its airy main theme, or maybe because of its dynamic pattern, I think this is one of the best achievements of a band that surely left (and still leaves) a deep mark in the story of neo-progressive genre. And I can but thank them for that.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Elsbereth [Lonely Queen] (Will-O-The-Wisp, 1999)

Will-O-The-Wisp come from Greece, but they sound so celtic, fairy and even proto-prog that you'd imagine them from Dublin or Edimburgh. Well, not at all: from the very heart of Mediterranean Sea, here you are magic and old fashioned keyboards, flutes and dreamy guitars. And also legendary queens, elves and all the little people court. This song comes from the self-titled debut album of the band and reminds me of old British bands like Cressida or Spring, with a thicker and more intricated sound to be honest.

All was made to charm, even the cover art of the album...

This song sounds coherent and sincere in both its inspiration and its arrangement, flowing fluid and sparkling like a mountain stream. Let's say that having listened to them, I understand why they chose to be called after the will o' the wisp. Don't you agree they're bright and unseizable like an ignis fatuus?

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Inter vivos (Quantum, 1983)

Back to Brazilian prog, I recommend you this instrumental track coming from Quantum's also instrumental self-titled debut album, released in 1983. It's a Camel-inspired work with the grace and the melodic charge of its model, but also with an original taste for rich and warm atmospheres. I'm grateful to Road Runner label for their re-issue of such a rare LP, virtually impossible to find outside Brazil.

The LP cover art. The band came back in 1994with !Quantum II".

These musicians surely knew how to change tempo and rythm as you'll see in the central section of "Inter vivos", when a lively giga comes in, adding a Genesis-like touch to the big picture. But likely the most interesting feature of this track is the constant and ever-changing interplay between Fernando Costa's keys and Reynaldo Rana Jr's guitars... that's what I call prog!

Monday, 23 November 2015

My Brother (Ivory, 1980)

Ivory debuted on LP in 1980 with the album "Sad Cypress", a deeply symphonic-oriented work, including this excellent "My Brother". Some passages have a strong Genesis influence, but the sound of the song has its own taste, made of sweet touches and strong contrasts. Suspended between pure prog and a mild experimental trend, between electric waves and acoustic whispers, "My Brother" is worth the attention of all prog fans, like this entire debut LP.

Ivory came back in 1996 with different line-up and style.

You'll find some original instrumental parts, Gabiel-like vocals and of course a lot of keyboards (there were two keyboardists in Ivory's line-up) and tempo changes. This song and this record also are a precious testimony of the very difficult and delicate transition from the classic era of prog rock and the forthcoming neo-progressive renaissance. Another good reason to listen to Ivory, but surely not the only one.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Shadow (Pendragon, 1996)

The first thing I thought when I first listened to this track was: "Wow... what a melody!". And there is actually a splendid theme here, one of those you're obliged to sing along. Then, I appreciated all the rest: the beautiful arrangement, the bridges, the instrumental parts and so on. This song is an excellent specimen of what some reviewers call neo-prog, whatever this word means.

"The Shadow" comes from "The Masquerade Overture" album.

For sure, I like the way Nick Barrett & friends mix easy and even catchy themes with guitar and keyboard solos, tempo changes and other traditionally progressive features. If you know how to manage such a blend, you can do miracles and that's exactly what Pendragon did with "The Shadow"... a musical dream, a colourful trip and a surprisingly modern, almost essential sound. So thank you for the music, my Gloucherstershire friends!

Saturday, 21 November 2015

The Pope Is Wrong (Paternoster, 1972)

Arcane and solemn, this Austrian band's music has its own characteristics. This track in particular has a krautrock taste, a space rock atmosphere that still interests me. Paternoster released a sole self-named album in their career, full of weird-sounding songs, between pure progressive and experimental electronic rock. "The Pope Is Wrong" features an excellent drumming work and a manifold collection of electronic effects, but also a series of acid sounds that remind me the psychedelia and certain proto-prog bands.

Paternoster released this album as a fivesome.

Something tells me the band could have heavily progressed, but unfortunatelty we just can enjoy their first essay. A last mention goes to the Church organ Franz Wippel played very well (after all, the pope himself is involved in the song title!) and to Heimo Wisser's effective bass lines.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Ricochet Part One (Tangerine Dream, 1975)

Following the example of other prog giants of the '70s, Tangerine Dream performed and recorded live an entire LP of unreleased music. That was a two part composition called "Ricochet" and continuing the band's complex, atmospheric and electronic exploration, but with a more intense rythmic work. The first part of the album evolves from a beautiful and somehow arabic theme that provides the returning element of the track and a basic sequence undergoing a stunning series of variations, edits, dismantlements and re-creations.

Ricochet was recorded during August-October 1975 European tour.

Froese, Baumann and Franke offer an exciting and arcane piece of music, criss-crossing irregular rythms, space effects, inner visions and acid touches in such a fascinating song that Ricochet still stands today as a real monument of what someone calls krautrock or quite simply of electronic music. And for once in this blog, I don't need to add IMHO.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

La Bataille du sucre [inclus La Colère des Dieux] (Ange, 1974)

Among the pearls included in the album "Au-delà du delire", this is one of the brightest ones. There's a strong early Crimsonian influence here and even the song title ("The sugar battle" - including "Gods' Anger") refers to the KC's first album tracklist. But, of course, this is Ange and the band's strong personality is everywhere. Let's see: first of all, there are the theatrical, emphatic and everchanging vocals, then the Medieval, traditional French elements in both music and lyrics, and finally the strong contrasts in volume, rythm and mood.

The back cover art is even better than the front one.

The entire song seems to baffle all genre, period and pattern boundaries, going in and out a great deal of clichés, lining up irony, stateliness and intimacy. The lyrics themselves are a weird blend of comic and tragic tones, relating an unlikely lack of sugar and salt in the year 2015. Last but not least, you'll find here a few first-rate melodies and tons of original arrangements. In a word: this is Ang at their best.

Monday, 16 November 2015

A Saucerful of Secrets (Pink Floyd, 1968)

This instrumental is the title track of Pink Floyd's second album and also features on the live LP from "Ummagumma" and on "Pink Floyd at Pompeii" film. That's to say this actually is one of the most important tracks in the band's early live tracklists. It is interesting to note that this song was split in four parts on "Ummagumma", each one bearing its own title (Something Else, Syncopated Pandemonium, Storm Signal, Celestial Voices). 

I think this cover art actually depicts the title song.

Roger Waters explained in an interview that the track was a musical description of a battle and its gruesome aftermath, so that the first part describes the start of the conflict, the second section is the battle itself, then we have the deadly aftermath and the subsequent mourning. For sure, this is a very deep and lysergic track, full of dark atmospheres and unpredictable contrasts, an experimental piece of music that's one of the most tricky, obscure and intriguing songs by Pink Floyd.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Lady of Dreams (Kitarō 喜多郎, 1992)

I confess this is a song I die for. And fon many reasons. First of all, Kitaro found a sweet, effective melody and on this theme he built up a glorious prog song of 8 minutes featuring all I like: excellent sung sections, long and atmospheric instrumental passages, unpredictable changes. Then he put in such a promising plot Jon Anderson's voice and Kitarō was rewarded with one of the best performances ever by Mr. Yes. Pure magic, IMHO.

This is definitely one of the most prog-influenced albums by Kitaro.

So this is heaven for me: pleasant music, original arrangements, dreamy moods and a good deal of different colours. Not exacly a new age song, as I see it. A special mention goes to Jimmy Hahn's electric guitar adding a further charm to such an enchanting track. Domo arigatou, Mr. Kitaro!

Friday, 13 November 2015

Primavera de una esquina (Aucán, 1980)

Aucán were a rather short lived band from Argentina. This track, "Primavera de una esquina" (meaning "Spring from A Corner"), comes from the album "Brotes del alba" ("Outbreaks of Dawn") and represents very well their kind of prog. It's a poetic, delicate music, including some acoustic instruments and a good electric guitar, somehow inspired by Mr, Latimer of Camel fame. As this song can prove, the band could also be compared with the mellow side of Italian prog in both musical and litterary sides.

"Brotes del alba" was the second and final LP by Aucán.

You'll also find that such a lyrical piece of music never goes sweetish nor boring: there's an airy and bright mood all along the track preventing any affectation. This perfect mix of sweetness and neatness actually charms me and such a song hardly looks dated today. That's why  I hope you'll enjoy another Argentinian pearl of progressive rock.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Strayed Again (Gargamel, 2006)

One of the most original ways to the 2000s prog bears the name of Gargamel, a Norwegian band mixing with care old sounds and dark atmospheres. This "Strayed Again" comes from their debut album titled "Watch for The Umbles" and is full of obscure singings à la Peter Hammill, brilliant rythms, claustrophobic passages, urban moods, experimental interplays and - last but not least - a good deal of acoustic instruments.

This debut album featured only five long songs.

Flute and cello,in particular, create intricate and unusual plots and when the track goes free jazz, here come sensitive drums and well played keyboards. So, "Strayed Again" lines up tricky instrumental sections and easier rocky riffs, quiet descriptive music and glorious walls of sound. And even Gentle Giant inspired intro and outro. Uncompromising, that's the word.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Kings And Queens (Renaissance, 1969)

Even before their most known line-up, even before Annie Haslam's splendid voice, Renaissance were an excellent band, trying to play a music beyond all the barriers of genre and public. "Kings And Queens", from their debut self-named album, is a perfect example of that. The eclectic approach, the piano central role, the catchy but also rocky tunes and the tempo changes draw a musical world of its own.

This is the original UK release cover art of the album.

The intense and arcane slow section is one of the most exciting breaks I've ever listened to, so full of hidden energy... The returning Spanish colour of "Kings And Queens" also contribute to the manifold atmosphere of this song, and the simple and effective vocal harmonies also do. A highly dynamic and colourful musical carpet... then, of course, Annie came in.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Mountaneer (Aleph, 1977)

There's a bunch of good bands from the Australian prog scene of the '70s that are rarely found in the sites and books concerning our genre. That could be because of their strongly melodic accents... you know how many intellectual and tricky reviewers love our genre (alas!). Well, as I like good melodies and well played pianos, I also like Aleph, a Sidney-based sixsome that really knew how to write great songs and how to give them an epic and sunny twist.

Unfortunately, the band split up soon after this sole album.

"The Mountaneer" is the 14 minute suite you'll find in the album called "Surface Tension", one of the brightest stars in Oceanian prog sky (IMHO) and the band's only studio work. Not only the different themes are excellent, but they're very well framed in a convincing pattern lining up spacey and prog moments, all as enjoyable as a progfan can desire. Guitars and keyboards come and go, while Joe Walmsey's falsetto voice is simply perfect in this big picture. Try and let me know...

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Mei (Echolyn, 2002)

More than a concept album, "Mei" is a concept song, as it only includes this very long and undivided suite lasting some 50 minutes. It would be useless to try a description in a few lines, so I better like to express some of the feelings this musical river inspires me. First of all, the seven piece chamber orchestra joining the band in the studio give a classical-but-never-too-much taste to these abundant materials and also empower the arrangements choices, so that this record is even more eclectic than usual (and that's saying something with Echolyn!).

"Mei" was the Sixth full-lenght studio album by Echolyn.

No doubt, the beautiful melodies are another strong point of "Mei" and so are the careful and tasteful changes in tempo and mood, but please don't forget the lyrics. The whole epic is kind of a road song, dealing with a both real and imaginary trip, an everlasting journey on everchanging roads. Something like a surrealistic Kerouac or a realistic Lamb Lies down on Broadway. Well, the inspirations aren't essential: all that matters here is the beauty of such a progressive masterpiece.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Calatorul prin Nouri (Sfinx, 1978)

"Zalmoxe" by Sfinx is often considered as the best prog album from Romania and actually it's a fascinating and original work. "Calatorul prin Nouri" ("Journey through The Clouds" in English) is the longest track of the LP and features pactically all of the band's trademarks: the good vocal harmonies, an extensive use of electronic keyboards and a pinch of electric guitars. These and a clever songwriting are good enough reasons to discover and enjoy Sfinx.

"Zalmoxe" was the second album by Sfinx out of three.

I also recommend in this track the pulsing background and a decent drum work. Sure, sometimes all those effects are too invasive, but these musicians know when it's time to land on the solid ground of melody. It wasn't so easy, I think, to go proggin' in Romania during the '70s, but Sfinx did it and did it well. Definitely, prog seeds germinate everywhere...

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Spiral (Jethro Tull, 1999)

"J-Tull Dot Com" is unlikely to be among JT's best albums, but I surely like its opening track. "Spiral" is a rich and thick song (as a brick, I'd say...), based on a well found guitar riff, a rocky sung theme and a winding flute work. And I also like the slow tempo and somehow mysterious central section, one of the proggest passages of the 90s production of the band. It's a highly dynamic song, a mixture of energy and poetry that I can only call quintessential Jethro Tull.

This album was number 20 in Jethro Tull's studio discography.

And even if Ian Anderson's voice was less aggressive than in his best years, his flute and his songwriting were as good in 1999 as they were in 1971. The lyrics also contribute to the breathtaking final effect with their hurricane of sounds and colours. Nothing new, maybe, but still a beautiful song after more than 30 years of prog. Chapeau, Mr. Anderson & friends.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Ennustus (Nimbus, 1973)

With their sole album "Obus" those Finnish musicians created an arcane and fascinating kind of prog rock, where the keyboards and some acoustic instruments (mostly a violin) mix up spacey and psych atmospheres and strong folk roots. This track in particular, called "Ennustus"(meaning "Omen"), is a good example of the deep, dark, liquid and unpredictable music Nimbus used to play.

This album also exists on CD with live bonus tracks.

Strangely speech-like vocals, keyboard and guitar solos, a soft background and a stunning series of tempo changes give a strong, intricated personality to the song, so that you couldn't compare it to any other band's work. I wonder what a bunch of musicians like this one could do nowadays... but of course they came out in such a flushing musical era that they only lasted a couple of years. Too bad, IMHO.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Feel The Cold (North Star, 1985)

I read many negative  reviews on North Star's records before listening to them. When I finally did it, I found actually unfair most of those low rates. True, these American boys love Genesis and seldom try to reproduce some of the British masters' sounds. But they also have many original solutions, especially when the drums come in. More than this: they write good melodies and perform them well and with the right amount of passion. 

Line-up: brothers Glenn and Kevin Leonard and Joe Newman.

Songs like this "Feel The Cold", the opener of the band's second album,  is full of real emotions and the '70s aren't a mere standard here: they're more like a Wonderland these three boys explore and their sense of wonder is so deep and sincere that it strucks me each time I listen to them. They love the same music I love and they know how to keep it alive. So why should I complain?

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Magic Flower (Triode, 1971)

"On n'a pas fini d'avoir tout vu" (something like "We're still going to be surprised" in English) is a colourful album in the wake of the psych and proto-prog bands of the early '70s. But Triode also had a strong jazzy and bluesy soul, so that the final mix is a very original one, as this opening track proves well. It's an instrumental based on the rythm section and the flute and exploiting a simple and effective  bass guitar arpeggio on which Michel Edelin plays his flute on both the angelic and devilish tones.

Luckily, Mellow Records released a CD version of this album.

"Magic Flower" is a perfect example of what a good band can do when creating free variations and apparent improvisations on a well performed rythmic idea. Especially when they also know how to add on some good and nostalgic moments. Unfortunately, this foursome Parisian group disbanded soon after their debut studio work. But of course, their music's still alive.