Saturday, 30 January 2016

The Flood 洪水 (Cold Fairyland 冷酷仙境, 2005)

Originally released in a Lin Di solo album, "The Flood" (2004) became part of his band Cold Fairyland's repertoire one year later, featuring on their 2005 live tour and their subsequent "Live at ARK" album, released in 2006. And when I listened to those Chinese musicians playing this arcane, deep and mixed track I was simply fascinated. "The Flood" has the magic to melt such different things as Eastern folk music, Western Classical patterns, progressive rock solutions and descriptive ambient into a single pot.

A beautiful live release, including many magical tracks.

Ethereal and delicate, this instrumental song is also powerful and enthralling, mastering volume changes and joining vibrant acoustic instruments and a solid rythm section. Of course, Lin Di's keyboards act as the fairy glue pastng all the details to conjure up a lavish musical fresque. Art, the purest one I can imagine.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Refugees (Van Der Graaf Generator, 1970)

"Refugees", tahken from the album "The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other", is no doubt one of progressive rock brightest pearls, with its deep sweetness and sadness. And of course its lyrics about migrants are so modern and so full of sense today... It's a slow, profound ballad à la VDGG, also including a short and effective instrumental bridge. But Peter Hammill's voice is the most moving and dreaming feature of "Refugees": thanks to it, the listener can actually experience the quest for a better life this unknown people are carrying on.

"Refugees" was released as a 7" single b/w "The Boat of Millions of Years".

And if they're distressed by their trip, they surely are full of hope and their march towards a mythical West seems to be an unavoidable omen, driven by something like a natural instinct. When prog rock artists can enhance their musical dreams with strong emotions, there's nothing as powerful as their songs. This is exactly the case with this song. Shivers run up and down my spine when I hear this:
We're refugees, walking away from the life
that we've known and loved;
nothing to do or say, nowhere to stay;
now we are alone.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

A Change of Seasons (Dream Theater, 1995)

This suite is also the title track of the first EP released by Dream Theater. Sure, it sounds strange that an EP should last more that 50 minutes, but after all the track I'm introducing here is the only new composition of the CD, also including four beautiful cover versions ranging from Elton John to Genesis. And Genesis surely are among the main influences of this suite, lining up seven movements and a great deal of changes in mood, tempo and even genre. 

"A Change of Seasons" can be considered as one of DT's best records.

As "A Change of Seasons" was the first DT's song featuring Derek Sherinian on keyboards, his contribution is remarkable and somehow singles out this song, even if most of the music was composed long before his joining the band. The classically prog passages are cleverly mixed with metal-prog parts (not too hard, that's to say), atmospheric moments and also some charming acoustic parts. As usual, the melodies are first rate and the lyrics deal with the seasons of life, a reflection inspired to Portnoy by his mother's death. An excellent epic, a higly recommended piece of progressive rock.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Gray Stones of Escalia (Galadriel, 1992)

This is not the only track from Spanish band Galadriel in my blog, so you can devine my opinion about their music. Yes, I like those musicians very much and their misty, delicate still full-bodied kind of progressive rock. "The Gray Stones of Escalia" comes from the album "Chasing The Dragonfly" and features all the main influences Galadriel gathered and re-worked with care and passion. This long epic (a suite? Something like that...) starts under an atmospheric and Jon Anderson-like star, thanks to Jesús Filardi's vocals and to the sophisticated vocal harmonies the band conjures up, but even so there's an original acoustic approach backed with spacey and Floydian accents.

"Chasing The Dragonfly" was the second studio work by Galadriel.

The track gradually grows up in rythm and energy, and the electric guitars get more and more important. A series of orchestral effects ends up this crescendo and then, here you are an unpredictable lyrical section, kind of a magic and intense lied, something inner and even experimental, leaving a melancholy smell and a sweet taste.The finale, of course, changes all once again and goes rock. Listen to this, my friends...

Friday, 22 January 2016

The Garden (Unitopia, 2008)

"The Garden" is the title track of Unitopia's double CD released in 2008 and one of the epics included in it, the longest one with its more than 22 minutes of duration time. Though undivided, it can be considered as a suite, lining up different moments and moods from the pleasant intro where the music comes out from a series of nature effects to some rock, jazz and melodic passages. Such a lushing choice of tempos and atmospheres never break the unity behind the manifold structure of "The Garden" nor its slightly descriptive approach.

"The Garden" was the second studio album by Unitopia.

In fact, the architecture of this song can be diversified, but all its moments are under control and all its parts have the same warm and captivating sound, so that even the most abrupt changes come at the right moment, beautifully adding new scenes and new colours to a coherent big picture. I also like the way each musician adds his own contribution to improve the final effect and never trying to take over the rest of the band.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Letting Go (Kino, 2005)

Prog rock isn't always an intellectual music giving away trricky compositions. Take Kino, for example. It's a British one-shot fivesome full of progstars, namely Pete Trewavas (Marillion), John Mitchell (Arena), Chris Maitland (Porcupine Tree), John Beck and Bob Dalton (It Bites). They decided to build up an enjoyable song-oriented album called "Picture". This song, "Letting Go", strongly inspired by Asia, has a catchy verse, an anthemic chorus and a third theme topping the musical cake with a pinch of pure prog.

"Picture" featured a series of very good songs based on strong ideas.

The arrangement is simply perfect, modern, never trivial and with some interesting changes. As usual, John Mitchell's voice is a thrilling experience and a good deal of vocal harmonies complete his performance with an airy and enthralling arena rock sound. Each musician adds his own special contribution, but no one tries to go too far or to show up. That's what I call easy prog rock. An excellent one, I daresay.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Dove... quando Pt. I + Pt. II (Premiata Forneria Marconi, 1972)

"Storia di un minuto" was the first and celebrated album by PFM and it included two parts of the song "Dove... quando..." ("Where... when..." in English), the first one closing the original A side and the second one opening the B side. The two parts sum up some 10 minutes of delicate and charming music. The strong acoustic flavour of this double track will be one of the best known trademarks of PFM and so will be their melodic inspiration.

The first period of PFM's career is a very special prog time...
I'm in love with the flute, the guitars, the keyboards (both organ and piano) and the violin opening the second part and announcing the liveliest movement of the mini-suite. In fact, the following jazz section beautifully changes the mood and the tempo of "Dove... quando...", introducing another strong features of this manifold band. Always a pleasure to listen to that...

Monday, 18 January 2016

Lapin (Connivence, 1977)

As you probably know if you come and read my blog from time to time, I'm partial to French Canadian prog rock, especially if it comes from the Seventies. I like the folk elements those bands used to add to their compositions and when those elements are cleverly mixed with fully prog and even symphonic rock, I'm perfectly happy. This is the case with Connivence's self-titled debut album and especially with this beautiful instrumental track, called "Lapin" ("Rabbit" in English). It's a lively and diversified piece of prog, with an irregular rythmic plot and some well found returning melodies.

Three albums were released between 1977 and 1984
and credited to the collective name "Connivence".

But there is more: Connivence was not a proper band, it was more like a shared project set up by many artists living in the same area. So, "Lapin" strictly belongs to a band called Oasis, but in the spirit of this shared record it was graced by a wider collaboration. For its rich and enthralling pattern, this song closed the album with a joyful touch.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Ouroboros (Kotebel, 2009)

Here you are a fully symphonic rock suite, packed with acoustic and electric instruments, thrilling walls of sound, assorted keyboards and fast guitars. But this isn't a derivative piece of music: it has its own character and a tasteful experimental background. Kotebel come from Madrid, but their multi-instrumentalist leader Carlos Plaza is from Venezuela. They search for something new, but never go too far and never stress their listeners with useless strangeness.

"Ouroboros" was the fifth studio album by Kotebel.

The orchestra-like arrangements are lively and diversified, but a rocky soul gives to this composition a full-bodied texture. Some of the moods from this suite are arcane and unpredictable and if they all are classically-driven, there's an ever changing effect in "Ouroboros" I always like in a prog rock epic. It's impossible to single out the main inspirational source for this band (some could be The Enid and ELP) and this is a very good omen to me...

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Let There Be Light (Mike Oldfield, 1994)

This is one of my favourite songs when it comes to athmospheric ones. I also like the entire "The Songs of Distant Earth" album, a concept based on Arthur C. Clarke's SF novel bearing the same title. It's a rather different side of Oldfield we appreciate here, less rich in instruments and more polished in sounds. This arcane and even ambient song is strincly connected to the short album intro titled "In The Beginning", but it surely is a self standing track, with a very beautiful melody and a captivating arrangement. 

This is the first single CD cover for UK and Europe markets.

"Let There Be Light" was also released as a single compact disc (a two CD set, more exactly) and was enhanced by a beautiful video, also included in the album CD. I admire the way Mike puts his sung line into a fantastic and ethereal background to create a hypnotic and evocative piece of music. Full of surprises, as usual with this artist.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Towards The Blue Horizon (Riverside, 2015)

Riverside are one of the most popular bands from the 21st Century when it comes to prog & friends. The only problem with them is that they decided to title their albums with as many words as the number of their releases (since their third CD, I think). That's why their 2015 sixth album has a six words title. Well, I wish them a long and successful career, but please... stop that before it's too late! Seriously, this track has a diversified and plesant plot, including a gentle opening ballad (great theme, by the way), a hint of Cure, a long and intense instrumental section and beautiful vocals.

For their Sixth studio work, Riverside went poetic... more or less.

When a band can write and play a song like this one, with no special effects at all and a deep emotional side coming out what seem to be plain lines, well, they surely are at their heights. A perfect balance and a solid composition are the well known but scarcely shared way to beautiful songs. Riverside are more and more into it.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Universal Radio (Dragon, 1974)

Here's a very interesting band coming from New Zealand and whose first albums featured a soft kind of prog rock, including Floydian ballads, jazzy bridges and many space rock moments. This is the title track of their debut album, released in 1974. You'll find a good mix of the above elements, and also a vague scent of Camel and BJH here and there.

Something between Donald Duck and a Super Robot anime...

The rythm section provides a diversified and fluid background, while the acoustic guitar pleasantly intertwines the organ in the quietest passages. Really, this is not brand new, but so beautiful and familiar, so well set up and arranged that I always listen to it with an inner delight. The only conflicting thing here is the band name, unless peaceful and dreaming dragons exist... but who cares?

Monday, 11 January 2016

Byzantium (Deja-Vu, 1988)

This is by far my favourite track from "Baroque in The Future", the sole album by Deja-Vu, a Japanese band not to be confused with the metal-prog Norwegian act bearing the same name. Based on Motoi Sakuraba's keyboards (you'll find him as a solo artist elsewhere in this blog), this is a trio melting ELP's powerful approach and an '80s airy neo-prog.

Great rythm section too :Tetsuya Nagatsuma and Genta Kudoh. 

Sometimes the resulting music is a little too artificial, but not here, in this well balanced and classically set up instrumental. The baroque-like themes are perfectly interweaved, and the tempo changes liven up the music, avoiding any pomp temptations. A pinch of Eastern sounds and a good deal of Bach-inspired progressions enrich the track and frankly treat my ears. An excellent choice for a dully day.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

House of Four Doors Pt. 1 + Pt. 2 (Moody Blues, 1968)

This two songs setting up a mini-suite come from "In Search of The Lost Chord" and are a fascinating specimen of what we seldom call proto-progressive rock. The first part of "House of Four Doors" has a tricky and diversified plot, lining up the main theme and some excellent instrumental sections, where Mellotron, flute and other classical instruments rule. After all, this unusual structure that perfectly matches with the quest and exploration concept of the LP.

This unpredictable work was the third studio album by TMB.
The vocal harmonies are another winning point, especially in the second part, acting like a choral coda, that another long song, "Legend of A Mind", divides from the first and longest part. This song has the plain melodies of the Sixties but also the highly sophisticated care for each detail defining the style of so many prog bands from the Seventies. Once again, The Moody Blues were simply forward.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Luminescence (Monarch Trail, 2014)

Ken Baird is an excellent keyboardist and composer, with an interesting and rather rich discography of his own. With Monarch Trail he decided to set up a prog rock band and I think his sond improved very much. This track, called "Luminiscence" opens the debut album of the trio, titled "Skye", and it's a proper, full-bodied and well diversified symphonic song. Keyboards rule, of course, but there's also room for Dino Verginella's bass, Chris Lamont's drums and even for an excellent guest guitarist, John Mamone.

A beautiful way to open the band's career...

All in all, this is not one of those synthetic and ambient-like tracks we all listen to when searching for something new: this song has the right amount of emotion and the good old rocky texture I like in a progressive piece of music. And if unfortunately this is not always the case with the rest of the album, I'm wise enough to retain such an exciting and welcome gift from Canada. Thank you boys: you lifted me up.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Gånglåt (Grovjobb, 1999)

Another interesting Swedish band. This "Gånglåt" (kind of a folk march), taken from the album "Vättarnas Fest", has a very original taste, an eclectic approach to prog and to folk I really appreciate. It's an instrumental track gradually growing up from the opening marching tune to a rich and exciting wall of sound, then going down tempo to an atmospheric and psychedelic passage and finally coming back to the main up tempo theme.

This was the second studio album by Grovjobb.

The complex and even dissonant sounds of "Gånglåt" surely reveal an experimental vision, but never go too far into it, so that this song isn't unpleasant or illegible to my (less than) average mind. A joyful energy sustains each second of this track and the vintage instruments are played in an unpredictable way, tracing a peculiar and intriguing musical path for Grovjobb. When I listen to this, I'm deeply convinced that prog rock has a long and exciting way to go through...ä

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Bel Air (Can, 1973)

Taken from "Future Days" album, "Bel Air" is a long song (I'll say a suite in want of a better word) that includes many of the most known and appreciated features of this experimental German band. It starts with one of their hypnotic rythms, something inspired by tropical islands, this time, and with voices employed as additional instruments. Soon the rythm gets the foreground and closes the first section. The second one has a darker mood and an arcane bass line acting as a guide through colourful and everchanging landscapes, fading out and into a jazzy and spacey passage, whose final seconds seem to lead the listener into a thick and dark forest. Birds and bugs drone around, until the music comes back, suspended once again between the Hawaii and an opium den.

...And fans consider this one as the less experimental album by Can!

Here you'll find some of the best and weirdest moments of the song, free variations and apparent improvisations ripping and distorting the tropical paradise wallpaper. Rhythmic progressions and dissonant effects come like a hurricane and ravage our beautiful island, so that the final section seems to me more a mourning chant than a return to firmness. Like it or not - their music isn't necessarily a pleasant experience - Can are the quintessential musical trip from the Seventies, well beyond the borders of musical genres.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Autumn (Strawbs, 1974)

Autumn is likely to be the most progressive rock season of the year, judging by the way our musical heroes keep on writing songs about it and even naming themeselves after it. But I can't remember such a riveting depiction of autumn as this one, taken from the album "Heroe And Heroine", released by Strawbs in 1974. It's a short suite (some 8 minutes), including three movements (Heroine's Theme, Deep Summer's Sleep and The Winter Long).

"Hero And Heroine" was the sixth studio album by Strawbs.

The first part is simply a beautiful instrumental, with lushing and pastoral keyboards, then here you are an acoustic guitar-driven ballad, with also an addicting electric guitar and a very well found sung theme. It's the core of "Autumn" and the most influenced by folk music. A gentle piano opens the last movement, another perfectly autumnal song, with effective vocal harmonies and based on a rythmic crescendo. Really, I think I could listen to this a thousand times and never be bored by such a nostalgic and warm atmosphere.

Monday, 4 January 2016

13th August (, 2008) (or simply Fromuz) state their origins in their very name, as they actually come "from Uz(bekistan)". That said, they already have a rather rich discography and they're an excellent symphonic rock band. This track comes from the "Overlook" album and you'll probably recognise in it some Yes, King Crimson and even Jethro Tull hints (mostly Yes, that's to say), but with a heavier and surprisingly eclectic approach. The symphonic plot is patent and very well exploited, with lushing keyboard / guitar interplays and very, very pleasant tempo changes.

Is it me or there are some familiar flying islands here?

It's an instrumental track, but you'll find some beautiful and rather original vocal harmonies as an additional instrument. I like the way they mix vintage prog and state-of-the-art electronic devices. This song is highly dynamic and now and then adventurous or jazzy. There are many sides to prog, as we all know, and "13th August" features a well done mix of some of them, without any self-conceit and with an overwhelming passion.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

In The Wake of King Fripp (Heldon, 1975)

The French band Heldon went through many styles and moods during their career, but surely the second album "Heldon II Allez Teia", including this opening track, is their mellowest work. As revealed by the title, this is a patent hommage to Robert Fripp, set up by Heldon's leader Robert Pinhas. You could name thousands of derivative tracks in our genre, but this one, at least, is openly stated in the first place. Abandoning their usual electronic experiments,

Heldon were a foursome for this album... with no drummer at all!

Heldon perform a pastoral instrumental, full of Mellotron and even acoustic guitars. That said, in this piece of music there's more than meet the ears: an ambient flavour, a spacey influence, an acid background that enrich the Crimsonian sound and put it further along a somewhat weirdest path. That's why I like "In The Way of King Fripp": wrapped up as a kind present to Mr. Fripp himself, it actually explores winding roads and hypnotic alleys... a treat I still enjoy so much...

Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Lake (Symphony Novel, 2013)

Indian prog has its own special, modern still evergreen taste. Symphony Novel combine many influences in their music, both Indian and Western ones. "The Lake" comes from their 2013 debut album "Aria" and is an intense, atmospheric ballad not too far from the post-rock mood. The first thing I liked in this song was the vocal performance, so deep and still so ethereal, spiritual I daresay.

"Aria" features both atmospheric and heavy musical moments.

Then I listened to the measured and well balanced instrumental background, with the right amount of light keyboards and electric guitar touches. The rythm section is also very good, stressing the stanzas of this ballad with a discreet and almost psychedelic accompaniement. Nothing is too strong or too weak, IMHO, and thus the great picture shines and charms my ears. Well done!

Friday, 1 January 2016

Tempus Fugit (Yes, 1980)

I heard someone say that "Tempus Fugit" by Yes could be considered as the perfect prog rock track. I don't know if such a canon exists, but I like very much this song, taken from "Drama", one of my favourite albums ever. This is a somehow devilish piece of music, with each instrument engaged in a musical battle against the other ones, and still the final effect is that of admirable harmony and coherence. Just another progressive miracle, I daresay.

The Yes+Buggles line-up in 1980.

Sure, Geoff Downes' sensible touch contributes to the artistic amalgam, but the track is nonetheless sparkling and even pyrotechnical with a stunning series of accelerations and abrupt changes. That's why if I cannot agree with the above draconian quotation, I surely reckon this is great, great prog!