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Prog!


marino

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Some of you could remember that about an year ago, I asked for advice about buying CDs of newer prog groups - in this thread:

 

http://www.musicplayer.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=18;t=008286

 

I was quite familiar with the seminal prog musicians, but after the jazz bug got me during adolescence, I kind of pushed aside my prog roots to pursue my new love. More recently, I've started to listen to prog again, and (thanks in part to the internet and KC) discovered that many newer groups are active. The only ones I had some familiarity with were Happy the Man and Spock's Beard, but I wanted to learn more.

 

Well, that big order of CDs finally showed up last summer. Unfortunately, that wasn't the best period for me to listen to a lot of new music, so while I *did* listen to a lot of them, it was always in small bits and not with my whole attention. But between October and November, I went thru the whole bunch of albums again with some regularity, and it was quite an experience. Still not a totally concentrated listening, mind you - but enough to get an idea. I've scribbled down my impressions along the way, so I'd like to share them with you.

But first, let me just thank everybody who gave advice in that old thread. Your suggestions have been invaluable.

 

CAIRO:

"Cairo", "Time of Legends", "Conflicts and Dreams"

 

I remember reading in “Keyboard” that Cairo tries to reconcile prog rock with song format... Song format?! The average length of a song is about 10 minutes...

 

It's an understatement to say that these guys are very good players. The keyboard player is so Emerson-based, he's pleasant to hear even though he's so derivative. The group puts a lot of energy and healthy complexity in their music, but this is both a good and a bad thing to me. The good part is, you find many things to listen to every time and a sense of impact that's really satisfying. The bad part is that they rarely give a rest to this "always full" attitude, and this can be exhausting sometimes. The recording, which often uses ample doses of reverb and compression on already busy arrangements, doesn't help in this matter.

 

A similar problem exists about musical style. They try to join prog chops from the keyboard with stadium-rock style fuzz guitar, and sometimes this superimposition is just, well, too much. I mean, ELP were accused to be too busy, but Cairo gives the word a whole new meaning. Also, this attitude forces them to keep their harmonies less complex and dense, so the ELP-like organ patterns are somewhat diluted. I'd love to see them in concert; if their live chops and stage show are on par with their songwriting, it should be a fun, energetic act. Only thing, I would love to hear them rest every now and then... :)

 

I also find their music a bit lacking strong vocal hooks; the vocals seem almost an afterthought sometimes, and the lead singer is not at the same level than the others for technique and vocal quality. But I don't want to sound too negative; these guys play music that's bold, energetic and complex, and that's enough to feel they're my friends. Just a bit more variety in the arrangements, OK? :D

 

ECHOLYN:

"Echolyn", "Suffocating the Bloom"

 

You know, young Genesis slept around a lot, so there are a bunch of bastard children... :D No, seriously, I really like these guys. To my ears, they take a bit too much from early Genesis, but still not as much as early Marillon used to, for example... It could be said that Genesis is one of the strongest influences on many of these 'new prog' groups. Maybe, it's just easier to take from Genesis than, say, ELP or Yes; Genesis' music is not so virtuosistic, their harmony is mainly (not all) triadic and diatonic, even though it modulates constantly, and their odd time signatures are usually relaxed rather than frenetic. Echolyn's harmony is even more diatonic than the original – it stays on one scale/mode for long periods of time. They use many other Genesis trademarks: The big Mellotron-style keyboard carpets, the percolating chorused guitar arpeggios, the very Bankish use of the organ, the sudden dynamic changes and dramatic switches, the 'suite as a journey' concept, and above all, they nail that 'British fairy tale' atmosphere with great effectiveness. I also hear an influence from early Moody Blues, and maybe some folk-influenced early rock groups like Traffic and Lindisfarne. "Suffocating the Bloom" is more varied than the first CD, with an healthy alternance of long and short episodes and some (dubious) attempts at Yes-like choirs. I really like their arrangements – they seem to be constructed in a kind of theatrical way, so they speak very clearly to the listener; they're never too busy. Both arrangements and mixing have a "clean' quality which I really like. Despite their non-exceptional instrumental dexterity (for a prog group, at least) and limited harmonic vocabulary, I'd give Echolyn my thumbs up for their clarity of musical intents, and their ability to transport the listener in a musical journey. The only noteworthy negative I see are the vocals, both solo and harmony. This is a common remark with most of these groups, though.

 

HAPPY THE MAN

"Happy the Man", "Crafty Hands"

 

I really like this band. They seem to have perfected the difficult art of combining hypnotic atmospheres with virtuoso performance. Some Genesis influence is still there, but on top of that, I hear a bolder approach to instrumental dexterity which I find quite healthy. Everybody plays exceptionally well, and you sometimes hear shades of early Yes, or (more rarely) even ELP – only, in a "chamber' environment rather than arena-style pyrotechnics. The keyboard work is top-notch, in performance as in sound programming; the timbres of synth leads combine perfectly with the other instruments, and the otherwordly pads are gorgeous. On a pure musical level, they seem to shift keys much more frequently than Echolyn, for example, and their harmony, though mostly triadic, is laid out masterfully. Happy the Man seem to have a strange predilection for augmented triads – they show as harmonic pivot points in a lot of the tunes. On "Crafty Hands", in a couple of places they go on just a bit too much with the hypnotic sequences, but that's just me. Once again, the vocals are not great, but they resolved the problem brilliantly by doing mostly instrumental pieces. :) Finally, the recording and production are very good, with clear instrument separation and a satisfying sense of impact which never becomes overwhelming. A joy to listen to, and a wonderful discovery.

 

SPOCK'S BEARD

"Day for Night", "Beware of Darkness", "The Kindness of Strangers", "The Light"

 

Ok, I have a bit of a problem with this group. In sheer musicianship, they're probably a notch up all the others I've mentioned so far. They're fabulous players, arrangers, and producers. But their music just doesn't reach my heart. Let's see: You have, once again, a strong influence from early Genesis, especially on "Beware of Darkness", plus some angularity à la Gentle Giant, and even some occasional hint at Zappaesque stravagances. They do the mandatory tempo, key and mood changes with such confidence, you would say that they never did anything else in their whole lives. The vocals, for once, are convincing and well done. The production and recording are generally superb, and their music jump out of the CD just the way it should.

 

But I feel that their music, while not lacking 'direction', does lack 'motivation'. Everything is in its right place... so 'right', in fact, that the whole package comes out a bit too polished for my taste. In other words, it sound a bit too much like pop! Of course, I'm aware that playing such complex music and making it sound 'easy' is not easy at all – it's just that to my ears, this poppish feel doesn't mix well with prog. Not surprisingly, my favorite album is "Beware of Darkness", which retains a strong 'early prog' attitude.

Maybe I'm just an old fart who wants to hear the music of his adolescence again and again, and I should just be grateful that such a good band does exist... but what can I say, after going thru four of their albums, I know what I like and what I dislike.

 

LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT

"LTE", "LTE II"

 

A shameless exhibition of instrumental monstrosity. Yes, they sometimes sound like those "guitar chops workshop" things. And the musical content, though complex, is not the deepest. But what's more alarming, I love it! :D Their intentions are clear: Take no prisoner. Let's see, no vocals. A note-per-second density that rivals the Mahavishnu Orchestra. A 'wall of sound' attitude, and unbelievable chops. Maybe it's just that they appeal to my macho-streetboy side, but joking aside, their music is well-constructed enough to sustain interest. They have slower/atmospheric moments, although I'd say they're not their best bits. Curiously, I have serious problems to digest Dream Theater, but I just like LTE a lot. Maybe it's because they are able to combine high-density music with a sense of humor. Anyway, I guess this is what happens when you let a few virtuosos loose in a recording studio with no restrictions.

Only criticism, the keyboards are underutilized and mixed too low. This is Rudess, guys, give him the space he deserves. I'm dreaming of putting a similar group together, only with NO GUITAR. :)

Also, not all the compositions are exceptional, or well developed. But most are. I just

love those CDs – expecially the second one.

 

THE FLOWER KINGS:

"Flower Power" (2 CD), "Metropolis", "Alive…" (2 CD)

 

Prog in psychedelic sauce... :) OK, this group, too, takes from early Genesis quite a bit. But they mix it with ample doses of Pink Floyd, plus I hear shades of early 'psycho-prog' groups like Gong. They're not supervirtuosos, nor they use a sophisticated harmonic vocabulary, but they have a good, satisfying ensemble sound, especially in their fuller moments, where they display a rich, energetic 'wall of sound'. The double live album shows how tightly reharsed they are, and it's well recorded too. The voices are a bit above the average level of those other groups, but still not entirely convincing in my opinion. It sounds like there's just not a new Jon Anderson, or even a younger Greg Lake, around. Maybe nowadays, the good singers tend to pursue a solo career rather than join a group... Anyway, the Flower Kings tend to write the mandatory 20-minute suites rather than radio-ready songs (the average song lenght on the live CDs is around 12-15 minutes!), and their arrangements tend to superimpose odd meters and asymmetrical riffs (usually from the organ) with psychedelic guitar atmospheres. Overall, I consider them another pleasant discovery.

 

PORCUPINE TREE:

"In Absentia"

 

I wasn't able to really listen to Porcupine Tree's album, because my copy proved to be defective, and after the third tune the sound was totally corrupted (I've ordered a substitute copy since). But frankly, I was almost relieved to discover it, because after this indigestion of prog, my ears cried for something else – in particular, I wanted to get back to jazz.

 

I also bought Ryo Okumoto's "Coming Through", which does contain some jazz, but as a whole, it sounds more as a display of versatility than a coherent work to me. I listened to this album just once.

 

I also got some CD reissues of 'classic' prog rock, some of which I had lost many years ago, or missed altogether at the time. It was a very interesting listening experience, in some cases even revealing. For example, I discovered that I can't stand a non-stop listening sessions of "Tales from Topographic Ocean" anymore. I find that it just goes on and on, and lacks cohesion. On the contrary, I've rediscovered "Going for the One", a gem from beginning to end. I also like ABWH a lot, both the studio album and the live one, as well as some more recent Yes albums.

I listened to two "classic' Wakeman albums for the first time: "The Piano Album" (full of clichès, but so well played – I fully enjoyed it) and "Criminal Record" (not bad, but not a masterwork either). The big surprise was to listen to "Myths and Legends..." and "Journey to the Center of Earth" again, after so many years. I used to like them at the time, but now, I simply can't stand them! The themes are silly, the performances lousy, the recordings horrible, and the singers laughable. There are virtuoso moments from Rick, but they're not enough to save the albums.

I was so puzzled that I pulled out my old vynil copy of "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" and listened to it too, again after a number of years, and guess what – I found that I still like it a lot! But the other two, no way. (Note: I'm aware of the difficulties that Rick went thru in making those albums. I'm just talking about the final results)

 

I also enjoyed the CD reissue of "Brain Salad Surgery". I laughed a lot when I heard the 'discarded' tunes and extra takes... ELP was really a bunch of madmen! Their combination of incredible musicianship and bizarre aestethics was really unique in music history.

 

It took me a month to go thru all this stuff, but I enjoyed it a lot – and listening to so much good music also helped me to stay positive thru some difficult situations.

 

Thanks again to those who responded in the original thread. And I'd love to get feedback from prog fans, of course!

 

Carlo

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thanks marino.

great post lots of info.

I only want to say I have to disagree with you on spocks beard. I think they sound very pure, and not always so polished, for example Neal's vocals. That in fact is what I really like about this band above others, like Dream Theater (which I do thinks sound too polished).

Did you hear spocks beard live? maybe you will like it better.

It is al a matter of taste, and it is a good thing not everyone has the same.

 

greetz

Rudy

 

 

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Carlo, thanks for your reviews! :thu:

 

I am well acquainted with most of the old progressive rock works you mentioned but barely cognizant of much of the new prog. One aesthetic that you seem to have that I also share is that, even when showcasing virtuosity, the song must come first.

 

Furthermore, I think I'd be more likely to enjoy any newer prog bands that follow the adventurous spirit of the old progressive rock attitude more than those that mostly seem to just imitate the old sound and style. Which (if any) bands fall into that category?

 

Best,

 

Geoff

My Blue Someday appears on Apple Music | Spotify | YouTube | Amazon

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Carlo, Nice reviews! If you like the precise playing of Happy the Man, you may also like Miriodor--great instrumental jazz prog from French Canada (technically they are a Rock in Opposition or RIO group). I have their album Jungleries Elastiques (Elastic Juggling). They are also superb in concert--I saw them at NEARFest 2002 in the US.

 

Another favorite 90s album of mine is Chroma Key's "Dead Air for Radios" by ex-Dream Theater keyboardist Kevin Moore. It may not be prog in the traditional instrumental sense, but more in the Peter Gabriel (solo) and Kate Bush sense. Great lyrics and atmospherics.

 

Finally, there's DFA--Duty Free Area--from your home country of Italy. They dazzled the NEARFest audience a few years ago with their exceptional prog fusion sound. All of their albums are great. Like Miriodor, they are excellent performers.

 

Ben

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Carlo,

 

Please check out the songs "Sunny Side Up" and "Just Dreaming" on this link:

 

http://homepage.mac.com/joplins/Menu1.html

 

Click on download files.

 

This material is a from an upcoming record that I've been working on, which has performances by some very famous players.

 

The LA Underscore is an instrumental band similar to the Steve Morse band, or Dixie dregs with some prog rock overtones. It's more guitar based than the bands you've cited.

 

The LA Underscore is:

Sean Joplin - Guitar

Derek Scott - Guitar

GT Richards (GTRBass) - Bass

Jonathann Launer - Drums

Guest players:

Jerry Goodman - Violin (Mahavishnu, Dixie Dregs)

David Ragsdale - Violin (Kansas, Smashing Pumpkins)

Ryo Okumoto - Keyboards (Spock's Beard)

Allan Holdsworth (UK, Bruford, IOU)

 

Since you've gotten really familar with the current state of affairs in Prog, I'd be interested in your opinion.

 

P.S. Have you checked out Vanden Plas? To my ear they're like Dream Theatre meets Kansas.

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Originally posted by BenOne:

 

Another favorite 90s album of mine is Chroma Key's "Dead Air for Radios" by ex-Dream Theater keyboardist Kevin Moore. It may not be prog in the traditional instrumental sense, but more in the Peter Gabriel (solo) and Kate Bush sense. Great lyrics and atmospherics.

I am a big Chroma Key fan, although unlike many others I like the slightly more spacey "You go now" more. The latest album "Graveyard Mountain Home" is very different from the first two. I am hesitant to classify Kevin's solo music as "prog", since he brings Trip Hop, Eno, and other influences to his music as well.
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great post carlo! i too have been trying to search out "modern" prog albums. i appreciate a lot of the performances but find most of the compositions lacking. i also rediscovered "going for the one" recently. a friend sent me a copy to listen to right before i saw yes at redrocks last september. (great, great concert by the way!played "close to the edge" live)

agree also on "sixth wives" still holding up. (ever listen to the moraz solo albums? i think there is maybe one i can listen to haha)

some of the "old" guys are still turning out pretty good work. steve hackett's "to watch the storms" is the album of the year for me.

i am also checking out albums and bands that i missed during the day.

http://www.progarchives.com/Progressive_rock_discography_LIST.asp?letter=A

a while back i mentioned pfm and banco and you suggested some of their more recent stuff. tell me what to get!

L

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Originally posted by progfusion74:

I am a big Chroma Key fan, although unlike many others I like the slightly more spacey "You go now" more. The latest album "Graveyard Mountain Home" is very different from the first two. I am hesitant to classify Kevin's solo music as "prog", since he brings Trip Hop, Eno, and other influences to his music as well.

Nicely put--it wouldn't be considered prog to many people--but if I can make one more argument in favor of calling it by that name, prog in the best sense does bring in many diverse influences such as the ones you mentioned, and the "Graveyard Mountain Home" title track is very reminiscent (to me, at least) of Pink Floyd, a la the song "Wish You Were Here." But I should stop labeling it--it's good, unique music--and if Kevin never had a history of being in prog music, I might never have thought of it as being prog.

 

And now (with my apologies for going on this tangent), back to the initial subject of this thread...

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Fantastic thread. I might mention to those wanting to sample some prog in an easy to access manner rather than buy CDs at random, my chums at progrock.com have split off once more to form an independent net radio station, and they have a staggering playlist, everything from the late 60s to today. They take requests, as well as submissions, new bands take note, and are associated with labels. The website is where you go to look over the list of ready access tunes, but they have access to friends with libraries all their own and can access almost anything in music history, so if you've heard of a band from Albania which had all of one CD made, they may be able to jig it up for you! Not to mention live bootleg and other rare oddities of your favorite groups. And the other site is a good one to look up as well. Here are some links, so don't hesitate to fire up Winamp or your music player of choice and load in the netlink listed on the sites.

 

http://www.theprogstation.com/

http://www.progrock.com/

 

And to get an overview of what's available net-wide, you can't pass up a visit to home base.

 

http://www.progradio.net/

 

Enjoy, prog heads. :)

This keyboard solo has obviously been tampered with!
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Thanks a lot everybody for the feedback and additional info! I'm taking a short vacation from prog right now... :D but it will come back soon. :)

 

Originally posted by OctaveDr:

a while back i mentioned pfm and banco and you suggested some of their more recent stuff. tell me what to get!

L

I'm far more familiar with Banco than PFM (they're based in Rome); to me their very best music is in their second and third albums, "Darwin!" (1973) and "Io Sono Nato Libero" (1974).

 

Among the recent works, "Nudo" from a couple of years ago is among my favorites. It's a double CD; one is an excellent live recording with old and new tunes, the other one is dedicated to 'unplugged' versions of (mostly) old tunes. The perfomances are fantastic.

They also tell me that a new CD is finished and going to be published. Plus, there's going to be a DVD of the concert they did for their 30th anniversary, with lots of guests (myself included!).

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As GTRBass mentioned, I have recently checked out Vanden Plas, and love them. There is also a new Italian group, Orion Riders, that is worth a listen if you like prog meets metal. Great playing, and the drummer is the keyboard player (according to their website). Worth a listen.

 

Jay

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