Wednesday, June 07, 2006

ESSAY: Why Prog Is Not Cool (and why that's a good thing)

WARNING: The views expressed in the following piece are those of a somewhat crazy man. They do not necessarily reflect those of the Prog Rock community on a whole. If at any point during the reading of this post you feel deeply offended or car sick STOP reading, it's only going to be worse. Instead, perhaps you should close your web browser or RSS reader and go outside to get some fresh air. DO NOT send in a complaint email, you'll only make things worse. Ok, I think that's it. No wait! One more thing. I'm not in anyway a bitter or angry person. I'm actually really nice once you get to know me. Ok, now onto the essay.

Jon Anderson is not cool. The way he talks, the way he sings, what he sings about etc… nothing about the man is cool. If you at any point in your contemporary young hip and happening life want to be considered cool, then you would never be caught listening to Yes in public.

Then let's say you happen to be a teenage boy growing up in the early 2000s. (This situation is hypothetical, and even though it did happen to me, let's pretend it didn't). If you cared about your social life, and wanted to function as a normal part of society you'd listen to U2 or Coldplay or some other mind numbing crap like that. (Offended yet? That feeling is only going to increase!) But you don't. You love this obscure weird genre known as progressive rock. (You'd be committing social suicide is what!) You try to push it upon your peers. Listen to this, it's cool! (But it really isn't)

So your friends, being the nice caring folks that they are, try and go along for the ride. They listen and pretend to like it. They pretend until they are out of your site and then they put on some *enter name of popular band in 2002* and then get drunk and pass out. The reason they do this is because Prog Rock is not cool.

Not cool? (Now the Prog fans are offended, but don't be yet). How could it not be cool? Because angry is cool. Simple songs that have lyrics about drugs and sex and murder are cool. "Well" you say, "Some Prog, deals with these smutty subject matters. Does that mean that angry dirty Prog is cool?" I'd hate to tell you this, but no, Prog is never cool. Why? Because music is not cool.

Confused yet? Allow me to explain. The music listeners of the mainstream don't care for music. They don't care that behind the melody is somebody who understands scales and notes. They hear the catchy tune, they listen to the lyrics and that's it. When it comes to Prog, music is king. It doesn't matter that some tiny man with a high pitched voice is singing about a seasoned witch calling you from the depth of your disgrace and rearranging your liver to the solid mental grace. That's not what's being judged. It's the composition of the music. It's the ability of the band members to compose complex arrangements and play them with skill that impresses Prog fans.

Music also exists in the mainstream. Even the most simple of electronic music requires at least a basic knowledge of time signatures. It's just that the average music 'fan' doesn't care. The people behind the big record companies know this. Instead of trying to educate fans by pushing music that is actually musically inovative and interesting they go back on a simple formula that hides the insides and focuses on the outter shell. Because in today's world image is all that counts. And don't give me any of this less is more bull crap because I don't believe the feeling you get after King Crimson's Starless from the Red album could have been achived without the long instrumental buildup section. If you have never heard that song then do yourself a favour and do so as soon as possible. If it doesn't stir your emotions then you are missing out on one of life's treats.

But why Paul? Why is it like this? Who created this horrible anti-music world that we currently live in? You really want to know? Well I have a great answer for you: Teenage Girls.

With their short attention spans and their mind focused only on themselves and their sexual awakening, teenage girls are a main consumer of music. They buy music more then anyone else. They all buy the same couple of discs too. They're the reason we have albums sold in the record numbers that they are sold in. The fact that they tend to listen to music with the speaker planted firmly between their legs may be the only logical explanation behind songs that repeat "you're beautiful" over and over and over again. (because that kind of stuff is void of music as well as any real emotion.)

After all I've told you, aren't you glad that Prog Rock isn't popular? How can you not be proud of listening to this genre? It's time to put on your smug hat and dance around the room. Oh, and if you are doubting the motivation of the paragraph on teenage girls, my next essay will expand and explain my reasoning behind this. For now just be happy that Prog is not cool. Besides, who wants it to be cool? Not me.

Monday, June 05, 2006

REVIEW: Thomas Bodin - I Am

A Thomas Bodin album? Isn't he that guy who writes the 30 second piano interludes between the epic-length pieces on all the Flower Kings albums? Why would he want to make a solo album? It's 60 minutes long!? So you're telling me this album consists of 120 thirty-second solo piano pieces? Well, not quite...
You see, the Thomas Bodin that we know from the Flower Kings has been keeping something from us all these years. We all know the guy has great chops, we've heard his fantastic keyboard solos all along. It's in the song writing category that he's been shocking many people lately. Its either Mr. Roine Stolt didn't want to give the guy a chance, or it said specifically in his FK contract that he's only responsible for those 30-second interludes.

Whatever the reason for holding back all these years, it's a good thing he started releasing solo albums. Although I've only heard two of his albums so far, the one currently under review and Pinup Guru, I can say with quite confidently that this guy is one heck of a songwriter.

This album, his first one to feature lyrics, is a true Prog epic (in every way possible). It's pretty much an hour long piece split into three tracks. (As things tend to go quite often in this wonderful genre of ours). Each track is labelled after a letter from the album's title. I, A and M respectfully. If you try to break it down for a track-by-track comparison you'd be wasting your time. Don't bother. Instead do the thing you must do with most Prog albums. Listen to the entire album as one. It's a concept album, one that has more in common conceptually with a Pink Floyd album then what you're used to hearing from the Flower Kings. Bodin decides it's best not attempt singing himself, instead passing on the duties to fellow Swedes Anders Jansson, Helene Schönning and his wife Pernilla Bodin. English isn't Bodin's first language, but you would not know it as he manages to pen some very emotionally powerful stuff in his second language.

Changing the focus from lyrics to music, this is a stunning treat for the ears. The keyboards are present, as expected, and current Flower King members Jonas Reingold and Marcus Liliequist fill the rhythm section. The result is a mix of familiar FK tones and colours (including a quotation from The Truth Will Set You Free), and a surprising harder rocking edge. The music alternates quite nicely through all sorts of moods and atmospheres. It's a roller coaster ride of great strong emotions.

Mr. Bodin has a strong future in the world of Prog Rock. I plan on getting all of his solo albums up to date and any ones that will be coming out in the future. If you’re a fan of emotional and melodic Prog with great musicianship and melodies then this is for you. Even if you don't like the Flower Kings I'd venture to guess you might enjoy this album. Prog on!