Wednesday, December 16, 2009

News: Genesis confirmed to be heading to Hall of Fame

My favourite magazine of all time (sarcasm) has an interesting little interview with Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford who are reflecting on finally being inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They contemplate playing at the ceremony, possibilities of a reunion with Peter Gabriel and deny the fact that they're a Prog band. 

It's about time that the Hall began recognizing bands from the Progressive world, however I have the feeling that the main reason for Genesis' inclusion has much more to do with the big Pop hits of the 80s then the truly groundbreaking work done in the early 70s with Peter Gabriel at the helm.  If you look at the rest of this year's list, they are still not even remotely interested in recognizing the likes of Yes or King Crimson. Let's just congratulate the boys in Genesis and then continue to pretend the Hall doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. (It doesn't, it's useless) (Even though Pink Floyd and Zappa are in it) (Still...) (Whatever)

Oh! Mike's working on a new Mike and the Mechanics album! Yay? Oh brother... 

Genesis' Rutherford and Banks Reflect on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction : Rolling Stone
What happened when you guys sat down with Peter Gabriel to talk about a reunion tour a few years ago?
There was a possibility of doing The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. I think Peter was unwilling to commit. Originally he was quite keen on the idea, but then he thought about what it would actually involve, and I think he's been out of a group such a long time I think he's forgotten a bit. I think he only suddenly remembered when he was sitting down with us all what it would be like to have to sort of share ideas. He's gotten used to ruling his situation a little bit, which obviously he couldn't do with Genesis.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

News: Jethro Tull Unplugged in the Czech Republic

It now seems pretty evident that Jethro Tull's last studio album is going to be A Christmas Album. While this hardly does justice to the band's legacy, most specifically to the classic Progressive epics of the 1970s, it's a nice cheery and professional way to go out. Despite the lack of new material, Ian Anderson continues to tour the world bringing holiday cheer. In this found article, next week's concert in Prague is previewed as well as Ian hints that Tull might put the electric instruments to rest once an for all. I suppose this is only natural, the old minstrel has  really mellowed in his advanced age. Happy Holidays!

The Prague Post - Night & Day - Stage - Acoustic cheer for the holidays
"We had been on the road since September, doing acoustic tours in the UK and the U.S., when I said to the guys a few weeks ago, 'I guess you will probably want to play your electric instruments again for the shows in December?' They said, 'We actually would really like to carry on playing acoustic.' "


Friday, December 11, 2009

Essay: Prog Rock As Rebellion

I want to rattle a few cages. I want to wake some people from their mundane ordinary existences and make them think about the world around them. When most people consider anti-authoritarian attitudes in music, they automatically think of Punk. Any regular to this blog will quickly realize that I do not consider Punk rebellious. In fact, to my eye, Punk is the soundtrack of conformity. This may be a shock to anyone who grew up during the late-70s and saw the rise of Punk's status as the flag for fighting the machine. However, in my case, growing up in the 90s meant that Punk was already well established and accepted as mainstream. It was very visible in the media and was easily marketed by large corporations to any young person looking for a soundtrack to break things. You may be able to sympathize then when I claim that, to me, Punk was the machine. This probably has something to do with why I turned to Progressive Rock.

Prog, to me, was everything that wasn't mainstream. It was music fuelled by creativity and imagination. Growing up in the education system in Ontario, Canada in the 90s, being creative and imaginative was not necessarily something that was encouraged. Conformity was expected by all, teachers and peers. If you did something different, you were shunned and punished. It seemed all so constraining. This is why, in my teens, I spent the vast majority of my spare time wandering between used vinyl record shops in downtown Toronto. In the very earliest years of the 2000s Vinyl had yet to begin its resurgence. I quickly found a calling in the experimental albums of the early 70s. This magical music from another era was everything that mainstream music of the time was not. The fantastical cover art, from the screaming twisted face on In The Court Of The Crimson King to the elaborate imagination of the paintings by Roger Dean, seemed like something that would never be allowed by the reality-show obsessed culture that ruled the day. I connected with the sprawling side-long epics. The three-minute pop-songs heard on the radio simply left me cold.

I was fairly known in high school for trumpeting the virtues of Progressive Rock. I couldn't understand the criticisms that were associated with the genre. How could a form of music that was built upon a foundation of creativity be brushed off as pretentious wanking? What was wrong with a musician taking time to learn how to get the most out of their instruments so that they could express themselves in a way that the three-chord punks really could not? Isn't art all about self expression? Isn't art about creativity and imagination? Isn't trying new things what art is all about? Isn't music considered art? Throughout my childhood, you would be hard pressed to think of music as anything more than a formulaic product meant to sell plastic discs.

While the notion of Progressive Rock as rebellion may be a difficult one to fathom, please consider my example as to why I believe there is nothing more rebellious. As our culture seemingly continues its drop into the netherworld of stupidity, put up some resistance and join me on my crusade to preserve my creative mind. Instead of watching the latest mind-raping insult to your intelligence on TV tonight, pull out your copy of Relayer instead and put your mind to work conjuring up the images that are the product of the lush music and epic artwork. When everyone else in society insists on being dumb, what could be more rebellious than thinking?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

News: Peter Gabriel Live in London and New Album

It appears that Mr. Procrastinate is actually heading back on stage. It seems that his new concert, called 'New Blood', will feature no drums and no guitars. Is Pete going A Capella? Hardly. It seems that he will be utilizing an orchestra as his backing band of choice. So far there is only one show confirmed thus far, March 27th 2010 in the fancy shmancy O2 Arena in London. Tickets are very very expensive and I'd guess will be very sold out very quickly.

Did I mention that he sorta has a new album coming out? I say 'sorta' mainly due to the fact that it will consist solely of an odd ball selection of cover songs and not an original composition for miles around. I'm not terribly excited for this personally. I did quite enjoy Gabriel's last solo outing, seemingly almost a decade ago. It resembled a return to his artsy roots that I for one think is his natural habitat. All that Sledgehammer nonsense may have been fun and all, and sold plenty of merchandise to boot, but in reality Peter Gabriel belongs on the fringe of experimentation. Agree? Disagree? Couldn't care less? Leave a comment or email me progrockblog@gmail.com.

Peter Gabriel | Home
With only 2 months and 6 days to go until the release of 'Scratch My Back' on February 15th 2010, details are gradually escaping the studio. We thought we'd open the door a little wider here. You may have seen the now finalised track-listing and running-order we published in the 'news' section - if so, it will be no surprise to read that the album will feature Peter's recordings of Heroes (David Bowie), The Boy in the Bubble (Paul Simon), Mirrorball (Elbow), Flume (Bon Iver), Listening Wind (Talking Heads), The Power of the Heart (Lou Reed), My Body is a Cage (Arcade Fire), The Book of Love (The Magnetic Fields), I Think it's Going to Rain Today (Randy Newman), Apr├Ęs Moi (Regina Spektor), Philadelphia (Neil Young) and Street Spirit (Fade Out) (Radiohead).


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Found Link - No-Man's Mixtaped DVD Microsite

Bla bla bla bla. Steven Wilson is a prolific dude. Yadda yadda etc.. It's all been said countless times so what good would it be to repeat it again? One of his many muses is the band No-Man. You know he's been working with Tim Bowness since 1990? This is true. Did you know that this is their first DVD of one of their vary rare live performances? This is also true. The site features a short biography and explanation of what the DVD contains. In addition to the live concert video it also boasts a documentary chronicling the story of No-Man from seed to um...bigger seed. (I don't know what that even means...) Either way, you can get fancy wallpaper for your computer, check out a trailer for the DVD and even watch a clip from one of the songs. Enjoy it. Breathe in the Light as Mr. Bowness might want to say.

No-Man - Wherever There is Light (from Mixtaped DVD) from Kscope on Vimeo.



No-Man's - Mixtaped DVD
Comprising a comprehensive career-spanning documentary, a complete performance from London's Bush Hall in 2008 and numerous extras (including newly commissioned and archive video footage), Mixtaped provides a fascinating insight into one of British music's most enduring and idealistic bands.

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Video: Interview with Jon Anderson-soundalike Benoit David

In light of the fact that Yes seemed to have shunned Jon Anderson, here is a video recorded about a year ago on Canadian radio station CBC. Benoit David sure seems like a nice guy (he is Canadian after all), and the story of how Squire called him while he was repairing a boat out on a lake is neat. Question: It has been a long year since this video was recorded and Jon Anderson is all better and touring on his own, why not bring him back? My theory is they all secretly can't stand Jon and Benoit is much more agreeable. Anyone else have a conspiracy theory with this?



YouTube - 'Yes' on QTV


'Yes' on QTV

News: 3/5 Yes Return to US for winter tour

If you live on the eastern side of the United States, you may be fascinated to learn that Howe, Squire and White are back for another leg of their most recent adventure. They have long since told Jon Anderson that he's no longer needed as they are using Canadian Benoit David to fill his role as lead singer. Rick Wakeman's son, Oliver, has taken over for his dad who is in no shape to go on these long tours anymore. Originally David was just supposed to be a temporary fill-in for Anderson who was ill at the time, but Jon has since recovered and is touring as a solo act. I guess Squire prefers this line up and doesn't feel like dragging around Anderson and his hippie wife...or something. I have no idea why Jon isn't being invited back into the fold. Anyone have any insight into this? Oh, and why is Steve never looking at the camera during these group shots?

Yes returns to the US for winter headlining trek >> Tour dates at LiveDaily
In October, Squire told an interviewer on the UK's Planet Rock radio station that "this is now Yes," and confirmed that both David and the younger Wakeman are now full-time members of the band. Anderson, meanwhile, has since recovered from his illness and is concentrating on a solo career.


News: Ike Willis and Ray White join Zappa cover band Project/Object

This should be something to see. Ike Willis and Ray White, probably the two most prominent voices in Zappa's music during the latter stages of his life, are joining the absurdly good cover band Project/Object for their current tour. The link below has a list of dates on the tour, so if you live in the U.S. you should definitely check it out. If you close your eyes during these shows, it may just feel like 1984 all over again. Watch the embeded video for the two tallented vocalists at work with FZ.


Altsounds.com News | Project/Object Performing The Music Of Frank Zappa Reunites Former Zappa Alumni
Project/Object will have for the first time in 25 years, as special guests - Ike Willis & Ray White. These amazing & unique voices were clearly favorites of Frank Zappa's, as he recorded & toured with one or both of them from 1976 till his last tour in 1988. Together, they created some of the most memorable performances of Frank Zappa's music & Project/Object will bring them together for the fans, performing songs they are each known for, as well as songs from classic Zappa albums they recorded together.


Frank Zappa - Keep it Greasy (live)

Monday, December 07, 2009

Essay: The frustration of living in the culture of the stupid

Here me out, I'm not trying to suggest that everyone is dumb. Well, maybe I am? I don't really know. However it seems impossible to escape the vast stupidity that seemingly rules today's culture. I often find myself unable to consume any mainstream media without the instantaneous urge to stick knives into my head. What happened to patience? Why does every aspect of a 21st century dweller have to consist of instant gratification?

This example may be out of the scope of this blog, but bear with me. I happen to be a huge fan of the first Star Trek movie. Not the newest one that just came out, but the 1979 original dubbed 'The Motion Picture'. This film is critically panned for being drawn-out and over-long. There are many sequences that do truly take their time and pass without a word of dialogue. Even the so called 'real' Trek fans usually describe this film as one of the worst made. I don't get it. If they had any sort of attention span they would see a beautifully shot film that asks questions of a larger and more important nature then anything else in Trek cannon. Yes it's slow, but in its pacing we can really absorb and seriously consider the epic visuals presented before us. Now, compare this to the recent 2009 film. This is a break-neck pace film that moves along so quickly that there is no chance to even blink let alone think. The characters spend the entire running time of the film in constant peril. The good guys are clearly defined and the bad guys are clearly evil. Despite the absurd time-travel plot lines, there is absolutely no chance that even the dumbest viewer will get lost. Your hand is held and your senses are under constant stimulation.

The reason I use this example is this... It really seems to me that our culture has become irreversibly stupid. I'm currently working on a video review of Tales From Topographic Oceans for the Vintage Vinyl series that we began last week on the blog. I usually do extensive research before embarking on such a piece. I try to gather as much criticism as I do praise for the albums I review in order to provide proper evidence for my thesis and answer rebuttals before they arise. There is no shortage of criticism surrounding Tales, unsurprisingly. This was an album larger viewed as a miserable overblown pretentious waste upon its release. The basic gist of all critique against the album , then and now, can be summed up in the following quote from a certain Amazon.com review: "Two albums full of aimless noodling, pointless soloing and pretentious lyrics that will test the patience of any listener." Sigh...

Why do we have such limited patience? Part of my review consists in my claim that Tales may indeed be the most perfect use of the vinyl record format in the history of rock music. Part of the joy of purchasing a record, or any recorded music for that matter, is the fact that you own the album. Having it in your possession means that you can listen to it whenever and how often you please. Topographic Oceans is not an album that one can truly understand on first listen. Forget it. This is an album that demands repeated listens. Any fan of the work can attest to its "getting better with every spin" properties that define great music (in my opinion). I'm also going to suggest that listening to this album in today's world is the ultimate show of anti-establishment behaviour. In a world of 99cent downloads and the simplest music built solely on its catchy hooks and having no other depth whatsoever, Tales stands out like Jon Anderson at a Punk concert. As the days tick by from its release, mainstream culture is only further developing its short attention spans. Even the most commercial and popular release from 1973 is high-art in comparison to anything being made today.

This is probably a source of too much frustration in my life. I just can't associate with today's culture. I feel like the black sheep of society. If it were not for the advent of the internet, who knows where my mental state would be right now. Why am I seemingly the only person thinking. What's wrong with using my brain and applying independent thought? Is there any chance that the masses of stupidity will ever change their ways? Is the lack of brain-power a sign of genetic degeneration or is it purely a manifestation on a commercial culture leaching off those who gladly follow the herd?

The posts to the Prog Rock Blog may slow ever so slightly over the next few weeks. The reason for this is that this blog is going to become a part of a larger network. I'm going to expand my writing into other areas and examine other aspects of interests in much the same way I am doing here with music. The common thread running throughout these sites will be an examination of contemporary culture and its penchant for favouring simplistic lowest common-denominator forms of entertainment over anything that requires any form of thought. Have no fear, once all the other sites are up and running I plan to continue full force here at The Prog Rock Blog. The thing that drives me to write here and eventually in other places is one underlying belief. If I can somehow reach as many people as I can and challenge their notion of the reality they consider normal, then maybe...just maybe, we can pick ourselves out of this culture-rot. What I hope from you, dear reader, is to join in the conversation. Let me know when you agree with what I have to day. Even more importantly, let me know when you disagree. Share this site with anybody you know who might have similar tastes. If they too look around at our almost unbelievably stupid music mainstream today and shake their heads in frustration, then I can bet they will want to share their opinions here.

While many of those reading this site may be of a more advanced age, considering the music I cover here, I am a young and ambitious guy. I want to do what I can to encourage everyone to question the norms. I want to inspire others to use their brains to make new realizations about the world around them. In my opinion, things have rarely been worse in contemporary history. Despite the means that technological advances have brought us to expand our minds and use our brains more efficiently, we are stuck with a culture more obsessed on basic instinctual self-centred motivations. Sex-obsessed, shallow and materialistic, I think its time we move into a new age of enlightenment. Who's with me?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Review: Steve Hackett - Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth (2009)

I have an endless amount of respect for Steve Hackett. How could I not? While I do tend to take many-a-shot at old timers who have spent the vast amount of their careers cashing in on past successes, there are some old dudes that seem to continually push themselves well into their autumn years. Steve Hackett is one such example. In fact I'd go as far to say that the last decade has easily been his most consistently excellent since the 70s. Starting with 1999's Darktown, Hackett has churned out a succession of brilliant albums in both his moving Classical and eclectic Progressive Rock style. He seems content to consistently put his former Genesis band-mates to shame with not only his continued artistic integrity, but also in the sheer pace of production.

The most astonishing fact is that with each release he is only improving as a songwriter. His latest collection of compositions, Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth, continues in much the same vein as his previous Prog Rock outings. 2006's Wild Orchids was, at that time, an album I proclaimed to be one of his most consistently enjoyable in decades. It didn't take many listens to his latest creation to come to the conclusion that this is indeed his best since Spectral Mornings. Of all the legendary Progressive greats, there is no doubt that Steve Hackett is the only one who just keeps getting better and better with age. Don't believe me? Listen to the two-part epic Emerald And Ash. The first half, a beautiful ballad (perhaps the Emerald), transforms effortlessly into the second-half rocker with guitars ablaze (clearly the Ash). This is a sign of a mature composer who isn't afraid to toy with the structure of his songs and use the power of contrast to aid in his storytelling. This advanced craftsmanship in the art of building music in the boundlessness world of Progressive Rock is a sign of a master at the peak of his game.

While fans of Steve's frantic licks will relish in the hard-rocking fusion-esque Tubehead (you know he was fret tapping years before Van Halen), fans of the complete Hackett package will soak up every second of the extend length of Sleepers. Beginning with yet another shining example of his classical guitar prowess, the song shifts and grows through just about every style the man has been perfecting all these years. The album's finale, Last Train To Istanbul, fusses huge violin riffs and powerful drumming in a way that very much reflects the song's title perfectly.

As I'm known to be rather picky when it comes to sound quality and production in music, you'll be happy to know that this album gets full marks in my books. The production is lush and very dynamic. I applaud Hackett's continued resistance to do like so many of his contemporaries and overuse compression and limiting during the mastering process. (For an example of the worst of this, see the recent Genesis remix/remasters. Yugh. Steve had little involvement in those. Damn you Tony Banks!) The album alternates in between the gigantic and the intimate. You would never know the fact that this was recorded in Steve's living room! This is the perfect example of how modern recording technology can be utilized tastefully. Sadly, at the present time you can only purchase this excellent album from Steve's very own website. As you may know, his recent separation from his wife has caused all sorts of legal problems with his former label, leading Hackett to produce this album very much independently. This shouldn't stop you from ordering it, by the way. If anyone deserves enormous success going the independent route, it surely is Steve Hackett. While the big bucks in the music industry continue to flow the way of cheap talentless hacks (no pun intended), Mr. Hackett is most deserving of every penny he earns for being the model of artistic integrity. Bravo Steve.

News: Allan Holdsworth In San Diego Tomorrow

Can enough be said about how amazing Allan Holdsworth is? A man who has done so much for influencing a generations of jazz guitarist to take their playing to another level, he continues to amaze and inspire. If you're lucky enough to be in San Diego you can catch him live tomorrow night. Check out this article for some great quotes from Holdsworth and an army of admires.

He’s a guitar hero among guitarists - Features - SignOnSanDiego.com
“As soon as I figured out I didn’t know anything about music, I was OK. It’s when I thought I could learn something that I was in trouble. It’s a never-ending story, but we all know that. The more you learn, the more you learn you don’t know.”


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Surrounded By Prog - Genesis' Selling England By The Pound SACD DTS 5.1

I hate the Grammys. What a load of baloney. If you happen to frequent this blog I'm sure you'd have no difficulty imagining my reasoning behind this. I'd rather get whacked in the face with Chris Squire's triple necked bass that he uses during Awaken then get a dirty little Grammy award. That being said, I do tend to get minutely interested when the list of nominations comes around every year for the Surround Sound category. Mainly because this is a category that Porcupine Tree usually has a chance at winning. I know for a fact that Deadwing won in 2005 and Fear Of A Blank Planet was nominated, among a few others, I believe. I was quite disappointed when Mr. Wilson's solo album Insurgentes was not on this year's list of nominations. What were they thinking? I think that it might be one of the most amazing 5.1 presentations I've ever heard. Fools! Not 'mainstream' enough for the narrow-minded jerks, I suppose. (cynical cynical cynical I am)

What has been nominated this year, however, are the new surround sound mixes of the Peter Gabriel-era Genesis albums. In honour of this fact I'm going to take a look at one of those mixes: Selling England By The Pound. I'm sure this album needs no introduction as it is synonymous with Progressive Rock. It's usually battling it out for top spot on Prog Archives' top album of all time charts, and rightfully so. A well deserved classic by all accounts. Yadda yadda yadda... Despite my praise for the album itself, I just can't give the same glowing review of these new mixes. Genesis' sound engineer of choice, (at least since We Can't Dance in the early 90s) Nick Davis, and Tony Banks himself were mostly involved with this project and quite frankly what they churned out is very disappointing on many fronts. The notion of going back to the original recordings and remixing old albums of this nature is a dicey proposition. In an ideal situation, running the old multi-track tapes through modern digital mixing equipment should provide the opportunity to bring enhanced sound quality. Despite this, there is always a danger of making too many changes to the album and as a result rewrite history (in a George Lucas and Star Wars kind of way). The approach that Nick Davis took on these Genesis reissues is pretty upsetting.

This album, Selling England By The Pound, was a warm and lush sounding record. On the new 5.1 mix (and new stereo as well) things sound significantly louder and much harsher. The more I listen to these DVDs (I don't have the SACD version, which was only released in Europe and Japan and was outside of my budget to order as imports) the more I think this is a huge wasted opportunity. In comparison with Steven Wilson's treatment of the King Crimson catalogue so far, these discs are a sonic mess. I find it hard to crank these albums to a level of loudness that I'm accustomed to with the original vinyl version without having my ears start to bleed. To use audiophile terminology, these are harsh and bright sounding discs. The low end (the bass effects) are severely lacking. Where Mike Rutherford's bass used to shake the room, it now sounds as though its been castrated. It's wimpy sounding in 5.1. Us Prog fans should be thankful though, the Phil Collins era albums are treated far worse. In fact, I never listen to the new mixes of Trick Of The Tail and Wind And Wuthering anymore simply because they sound terrible. The original vinyl versions beat the snot out of them every time. Just compare the new Foxtrot with Wilson's treatment of Lizard and see what I mean. No comparison.

It's not all doom and gloom however. The use of surround sound and its additional speakers is very entertaining. The added separation does give additional insight into just how all the individual elements come together to make this album what it is. There are many instances of discrete sounds coming from the rear of the sound stage. During moments like in Cinema Show, the acoustic guitars are spread around the room in a way that lets you hear how all those weaving 12-strings come together. Backup vocals usually stand near the rear to counterpoint the leads in the front. The marching band at the beginning of The Battle Of Epping Forest marches around the room. The mellotrons, while having lost some of its majesty due to the sound quality remarks in the previous paragraph, are easy to hear coming from the rear. Going to the original recordings brings out many new details such as the sound of Peter Gabriel pressing the buttons on the flute during the solo in Firth Of Fifth. There also seems to be some different vocal takes used in comparison to the original, such as the "here comes the cavalry" cry during Epping Forest. All these aspects should appeal to all fans of Gabriel-era Genesis so these will probably be of interest despite the sound quality criticisms.

To be fair to Nick Davis and Tony Banks, the use of compression and equalization on the Genesis remixes are very much in step with current trends in music mastering. Personally the constant loud volume detracts from the dynamic nature of these recordings. If you aren't particular about such things then I have no doubt that the Selling England By The Pound 5.1 remix will entertain and amuse. If I'm in the mood to really listen to this album at a loud volume, I tend to reach for my vinyl copy. That being said (I love saying that), I do hope the box-set takes home the Grammy award for no other reason than having more Progressive Rock albums recognized by the mainstream (for what it's worth). If I had the choice, however, I'd easily pick Steven Wilson's Insurgentes to be nominated and win this year's award. It may be the best of its kind, ever. Hmmm, perhaps the next instalment of this column should explain exactly why I think this. How's that for a teaser?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

News: Alan Parsons Project's Eric Woolfson Dies


Sad news. The Alan Parsons Project's songwriter Eric Woolfson has just passed away today at the age of 64.

You can leave condolences on his Facebook Page

Found Link: Interview With Kansas Guitarist Rich Williams

Well I made fun of Rich and the rest of Kansas yesterday for being washed up so I figure I might as well link to this interview from Modern Guitarist. Rich talks about life on the road, touring with Journey and Styx (speaking of washed up) as well as the equipment he uses on the road. When asked about all the live albums Kansas keep churning out, he forgot to mention the real reason for their existence: easy cash-in! They have what, two hit songs? How else can you keep milking the cash cow? Oh yeah, greatest hit compilations, they have plenty of 'em too!

Interview With Kansas Guitarist Rich Williams
Rich: When we first got started we were signed by Kirshner Records, and they kind of left us alone with the music. They gave us a budget and let us record the album. There was some input, but not much beyond asking us to have some material that they could play on the radio. That kind of a situation just wouldn’t happen today.


LA Philharmonic Plays Zappa

Speaking of Frank Zappa, there seems to be a recent trend for many an orchestra to be playing his compositions lately. You have to understand this though; the guy fought for most of his life to have his 'serious' music to be played by a 'real' orchestra. In his autobiography he talked about how symphony orchestras only play music by dead composers because of a myriad of reason not excluding they didn't have to worry about paying royalties. Well, call it a self fulfilling prophecy. Now, almost 17 years since his death, you can go just about anywhere in the world and hear dead-man Zappa's 'serious' music being by just about anybody. Heck, even the LA Philharmonic put on a performance of pieces from Yellow Shark last night. Seems to be the way, the good composers are never fully appreciated until they croak. Poor Frank.


LA Philharmonic Plays Zappa on JamBase

EDIT: I found a review of last night's concert. Sounds like lots of fun. Read all about it.

A Prog Rock Guide to the Project/Object - Absolutely Free

This album was released in 1967! I really think history has almost forgotten just how innovative and ahead of their time The Mothers of Invention were. Zappa's first band were clearly breaking just about every rule in the book and doing so with style and class. Just to put into perspective how important the release date of this album is, consider that this is the same year The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's, the Moody Blues released Days of Futures Past and Jimi Hendrix released Are You Experienced. There is little doubt that these are important and innovative albums in the overall picture of Rock music, but with Absolutely Free I do believe that Frank Zappa and The Mothers were making full blown Progressive Rock years before King Crimson apparently launched the genre properly with In The Court Of The Crimson King.

Hear me out. While The Beatles take a lot of the credit for inspiring the legions of Progressive bands that followed, The Mothers were really laying the blueprint for Prog in a much firmer way than Sgt Pepper's ever did. Firstly, The Mothers were pretty good musicians. In fact, one of the reasons Zappa wanted to join these guys was that they had better musicianship then most of the other bands in the L.A. music scene at the time. While future lineups of Zappa bands were clearly much more polished in this regard, these early Mothers of Invention could certainly play their instruments at a level that was pretty advanced for Rock n' Roll in the late 60s. Just listen to all the shifting tempos and styles that this album possesses. In addition to the musical chops, Zappa was experimenting with the form of composition in ways that other bands wouldn't try for another couple of years at least. The original vinyl consists of two "Underground Oratorios", each of which took up a side of the LP. The first side was simply called Absolutely Free and was a flowing suite of music revolving around the subject of vegetables. The second side was called "The M.O.I. American Pageant" and revolved around the boring plastic nature of Americans at the time. Zappa's social satire is pretty clear, Americans and vegetables are pretty much interchangeable in many regards. This may seem like an obvious statement in our post-modern satirical era, but in 1967 these were pretty daring statements.

So we basically have two side long suites. That's a staple of what was to come as the Prog bands of the 70s pretty much took this format to the extremes. The humour in the lyrics is pretty apparent, if the constant giggling doesn't point that out. Zappa and The Mothers create a fun almost circus-like atmosphere but then, almost casual, toss off really perfectly played high-brow classical music references almost seemingly. Check out Status Back Baby. This is a fairly straight forward parody of late-sixties bubblegum pop music, but then suddenly during the instrumental break Zappa starts playing a phrase from Igor Stravisnky's Petrushka on his guitar and then the full band joins in and nails the big ending of the famous bombastic section from the same ballet! A whistle blows and then they go seamlessly back into bubblegum mode to finish off the song. Need I remind you that this is 1967? How incredible is that? Considering the influence Stravinsky had on the Prog bands of the early 70s, this is yet more proof that Zappa nailed the genre before it was even created.

From the musical complexity to the 'out-there' subject mattered covered on epics like Brown Shoes Don't Make It, I can't think of another album from 1967 that pushes the boundaries of Rock music like The Mothers of Invention did with Absolutely Free. Of course it may be these very factors that has caused the album to be largely ignored by mainstream audiences of the day and subsequently its lack of appraisal today. Regardless, many Zappa fans consider this album to be among the most concise examples of his genius. There is little doubt that this is an essential album for any Zappa collector and fan of Progressive music. It's an important historical document and shines today with its music and social satire resonating as strongly as ever.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Vintage Vinyl - Emerson Lake and Palmer's Tarkus

The first in a brand new series as a guide to the beginner used vinyl collector. I decided to attempt to make this a video series. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Vintage Vinyl - Giant Armadillo Tank!!! Emerson Lake and Palmer - Tarkus - The Prog Rock Blog from Paul Di Meglio on Vimeo.

News: Kansas - officially washed up - playing at the PGA merchandise show in January

Poor Kansas. I guess this is a step up from touring casinos. Or maybe it's a step down? Well, if you like golf and like Kansas and happen to be in Orlando late January, you may want to check out the following link:

PGA Merchandise Show will present Kansas at industry concert | World Golf News
Kansas, one of America's most successful progressive rock bands, will be the featured entertainment in a new "Elations Rocks the Joint" Concert at the 2010 PGA Merchandise Show. The complimentary industry concert will be held in the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., Friday, January 29, 2010, at 6:00 p.m.


News: Yet Another Asia Reunion Album...party like its 1983

Everyone's favorite "should have been an amazing jaw dropping Progressive Rock super group but actually turned out to be a crappy mediocre 80s pop band" is back! Yes that's right, following the 'success' of their 2008 reunion album Phoenix, the original lineup of Asia is heading back to the studio for another collection of pop-fooey. If you haven't heard Steve Howe, John Wetton, Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer's last creation, then don't bother. Well, that is unless you really can't believe how a band can make an album in 2008 that sounds exactly like it was made in 1982. Seriously, down the cheesy keyboards and bland straightforward rhythms, if you weren't informed as to its correct release date you may be fooled into thinking that those old geezers actually recorded this sucker in the early 80s and have been saving it until now.

Regardless. They are going to make another one... if this is exciting news to you then perhaps you may want to check their website for more information.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Review: Comus - First Utterance (1971)

Sigh, to be around in the early 70s. You old farts have no idea how good you had it. Or maybe you did? I can only imagine a time of such creative freedom to be a fantasy beyond my wildest dreams. So much exciting and innovative music coming from those years. It was an era when a record label would actually take a chance with seemingly any oddball group, regardless of how noncommercial they might sound. The ideas flowing out of bands of the time seemed so wild and innovative and yet so logical and progressive. I mean, it makes sense doesn't it? Rock music had been around for at least a few decades already, bands like the Beatles seemed to have not only exhausted the possibilities of the genre but have also taken it to new heights. Let's experiment. Let's see what else we can do. Let's mix it up and try to incorporate other influences. The logic is seamless. On reflection it only makes the Punk backlash of the late 70s appear more ass-backwards than ever.

I couldn't imagine a year more ripe for a band like Comus than 1971. When else in the history of contemporary music could you envision a band so original, so creative, so unlike anything else to be allowed a chance to release an album of this nature? First Utterance seems to be an anomaly. It was apparently dismissed upon its release, garnering little commercial success. The sands of time could have easily lost this album forever. I can only describe its recent success in the online Progressive community as the quintessential example of music ahead of its time. This is folk music taken to heights that I can't see even remotely reached anywhere else. The overall feel of the music is dark, violent and often disturbing. Performed all on acoustic instruments, the darkness achieved here is remarkably unsettling considering the time period it was written in. It's no wonder that Progressive Death Metalers Opeth consider this to be an influence.

If I had to highlight one song that best showcases what made these guys so unique, it would probably have to be the violent Drip Drip. This is Progressive Folk music taken to bloody extremes. The chugging rhythm that breaks down midway through the song is effortlessly replaced with an equally sinister rhythm that showcases what you can achieve when traditional song structures are ignored in favour of more adventurous songwriting. The manic violin playing and woodwind instruments betray the evil lurking in the lyrics with an almost pastoral beauty. The line: "As I carry you to your grave, my arms your hearse" is not only quoted by Opeth, but could almost be a blueprint for the Death Metal genre, still decades away from the composition of this masterpiece.

In First Utterance we have a perfect example for my thesis on the impact of the internet on Progressive music. Since the album's first appearance on CD in the mid-90s, Comus have had a revival of sorts. They have since reunited and have even recorded a live DVD, sold through their website. As I highlighted in a previous post, they have even written new material and hopefully will be releasing a new album some time in the future. Considering this band was dormant for over thirty years, this is no small miracle.

If you consider yourself a Progressive Rock connoisseur, someone who knows even the most obscure act of the early 70s, and don't have this album in your collection... you are sorely missing out. A forgotten and dismissed masterpiece, revived through the power of free communication that is the internet. Slowly but surely Comus is getting the recognition they deserve. While the mainstream continues to elevate mediocre and redundant commercial acts to the plateau of super-stardom, the true creative geniuses of times long ago are beginning to get some well deserved respect.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

News: Holy Crap!!! Comus is back!!!!! New song!!!!

If I had made a list of one-off amazing bands from the early 70s that I never thought we'd ever hear from again (this is pure hypothetical musings here, who has time to make up ridiculous lists of this nature?), Comus would easily top that list. Holy crap! They're back! They've recorded a new live DVD! They're working on new material! In case you haven't guessed, I'm a huge fan. In fact, the creepy dark creature from the cover of their masterpiece, First Utterance, is featured in the header image on this very website. (That twisted agonizing thing hiding in the rocks on the right side) If this video clip, a live performance of their first new song in 30 years, is any indication; this is going to be a heck of a come back. If you've never heard of Comus, I'd describe their music as being some of the darkest all-acoustic progressive folk music I've ever heard. Check out their website and watch the video embedded below for crying out loud!

Comus - Progressive/ Psychedelic / Wyrd / Folk Rock (UK)
Comus played live again for the first time in thirty four years at Stefan Dimle’s Melloboat Festival on the 9th March 2008 to a tumultuous reception. A DVD of their electrifying performance at the festival is in production.


Comus "Out of the coma" new song live

News: Magic Pie new album slated for early 2010

If you haven't heard of Magic Pie, they are a band that took me by surprise in 2005 with their debut album Motions of Desire. I was impressed with their ability to combine crunchy hard rock riffs and soaring organ work. Well, their second album disappointed me a bit, sounding a bit too "modern prog by the numbers" if ya know what I mean. I am looking forward to what they are working on right now. If this embeded video is any indication, it should be a rockin' proggin' good time. What do you think?

Magic Pie Official Website
CD release early 2010
Magic Pie continues the work on the new album and we're going for a release early 2010. Eirikur has fit perfectly with the rest of the guys and has also contributed with lyrics to the songs. Stay tuned for more..


Magic Pie - Studio Sessions:Episode 1

Found Interview with Steven Wilson: Ambition Rocks

In light of the last link I shared with you, I want you to know that I'm not the only one who is as happy as perplexed by the sudden acceptance of music that does more than provide a steady beat to work out to. Steven Wilson again provides his perspective on the current climate for music. Can you imagine? You are once again allowed to have ambition when working on art! Jeez wiz....

Ambition Rocks - Attention Deficit Delirium
It seems the climate is more open than ever for doing something ridiculously over the top and over ambitious and reaching for the stars. It seems like it’s OK to do that now. I’m so happy about that. I’m so happy that ambition in music is acceptable, but God knows for 20 years it was almost like ambition was a dirty word.


Link: The folks at Grammy.com think that Prog should be called "high-IQ rock"

This sure is a fascinating time we live in. This article, from the same folks who slavishly award little golden gramophone status to generic boring commercial music, is actually positive to the revival of more complex and creative music that we are currently undergoing. The funny thing is, I couldn't think of a label more pretentious then their suggested alternative to Progressive Rock, "high-IQ" rock. Regardless, this is another interesting and perplexing piece of writing from a mainstream source music journalism. What kind of bizarro world have we entered???

GRAMMY.com
While music with such characteristics has been historically termed progressive rock by music critics, these artists could also be labeled "high-IQ" rock.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Preview of a new series: Vintage Vinyl

I really have no respect for the music industry. While some of my most beloved releases do in fact come from early 70s - an era where major record labels actually signed innovative original bands - the last 30 years or so have been nothing but pure garbage. I've already gone on record here stating my belief that the internet is saving our culture from the grips of musical paralysis. Thanks to the freedom for anyone to say and do as they please, intelligent folks like you are finding music-nerds like me to help guide you to music that would be impossible to discover through the uber-controlled and dumbed down airwaves of traditional media. The major labels hate the internet. Unfortunately for them, they only see it as a way for people to download music without paying for it. They are focusing all their time trying to shut down file-sharing sites and ban ordinary citizens from the internet just for downloading some of their oh-so-precious and yet oh-so-crappy-and-overrated mainstream music. I want to see these companies fail. This new series of posts, starting next week, will be my little way of screwing these jerks without ever sharing a file or encouraging piracy in any which way.

Let's face it. You know it. I know it. We all know it. The best and most original Rock music came from the early 70s. These albums were released on a format known as the Vinyl LP. These vinyls have for the most part long gone out of print, usually replaced with poorly mastered, often highly compressed CDs. Here's what we should do. If you owned a LP player in the 60s-70s-80s and have since stored in your attic or wherever, pull it out and set it up. If you, like me, are too young to have been around in the heyday of vinyl, either bug your parents for their old turntable, or get yourself a refurbished model on the cheap. Alternately, hunt down garage sales and see if you can snatch a bargain. Regardless of how you do it, make sure you have a way of vinyl playback.

If you live in a big city, small city or even some remote towns, odds are that there are plenty of places to hunt down used vinyl records. Here in Toronto, there are oodles of shops specifically made to buy and sell used circler wax, a.k.a. vinyl records. Even thrift stores usually have a small selection of used vinyls. You can usually find endless copies of old Progressive Rock classics on vinyl at prices a fraction of what you would pay for a new CD of the same album. Here is the clincher: even a slightly worn vinyl record will usually beat the snot out of a CD in terms of sound quality. Cheaper, better sound and since we're getting these second-hand, the record labels don't get a penny! Think of this as a totally legal form of screwing the same record companies who have shunned Progressive music at the expensive of mindless derivative crap for so many years.

The internet will in fact be the downfall of the music industry, but not because of its ability to share music files freely between users. The recommendations to be posted here will become your guide, helping you know what to look for when shuffling through all those used vinyls. I'll explain the sleeve design, point out if the album has an interesting gate-fold or other unique packaging characteristics. I'll rate the production of the albums and try to convey how good these old things can sound. Heck, if you're interested, I'll even link to guides that help you digitally capture your vinyls onto your computer and clean up the pops and scratches for perfectly legal mp3 copies of the same music all without giving those money grabbing jerks at the big labels a single penny.

You might point out the artists will also be missing out on any royalties if we exclusively purchase music this way. I might point out that the royalties earned by the artist is but a tiny fraction of the cost of a new CD, and that most of these old bastards are plenty rich enough as it is. Roger Waters doesn't need any more royalties. Period. Do yourself a favour and make your next Pink Floyd album purchase a used vinyl record.

Let me know if you have any requests as to which albums or artists you would like to see me cover here.

Until next week,

Keep the Prog Alive!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Surrounded By Prog - Porcupine Tree's Lightbulb Sun DVD-A 5.1 Review

I've already reviewed one of Steven Wilson's 5.1 mixes in the form of King Crimson's Lizard. There is little doubt that Steven is the king of Surround Sound. If my glowing recommendation of Lizard wasn't enough to prove this, I'm going to take a look at one of his own band's albums in the form of Lightbulb Sun. This album has already been hailed as a modern masterpiece by many Progressive fans out there, so I'll assume that this material needs no introduction. If you've only heard this album on regular CD or as a digital download (or even vinyl for that matter), you really haven't heard it to its full potential. Mr. Wilson has been a huge fan of 5.1 since the release of Porcupine Tree's In Absentia in 2003 on the DVD-Audio format. For a true artist like Wilson, the idea of a format that required the listener to sit down and really take in the full breadth of an album was an ideal platform for his music.

There is usually a confusion whenever I mention the idea of surround sound music. For those who have never experienced an album in this fashion, it may be difficult to imagine what it sounds like. The point of this series is to attempt to explain why I think this is the way for serious music listeners to experience their favourite recordings. The real key in understanding why this is, simply go step outside of your house for a moment. Focus on what you are hearing. Close your eyes. While it is true that we only have two ears, you should quickly realize that you are very able to hear sounds coming from all directions. 360 degrees of sounds. If someone were to snap their fingers behind your head, you wouldn't say that the sound is coming from your left or right. Our brains are able to quickly take the information coming from our ears and process it in a way that can help us locate the sounds very precisely.

There really are no rules when it comes to how one might use the extra speakers in a 5.1 setup. If you've ever had the pleasure of watching a concert DVD in surround sound, you might have noticed how well those speakers behind you help create the ambiance of the venue where the show is taking place. You hear the roar of the crowd and the sound of the instruments echoing off the back wall. A good concert mix can really make the effect of 'being there'. Some studio album recordings in 5.1 use this approach, putting you in the recording studio with the band. Steven Wilson, however, takes a more creative style to his 5.1 mixes. What I believe he does is create a 3D sound painting.

Sounds pretentious? Nah... I think that this idea comes from the notion that music can really transcend from being just simply background noise or, as I like to call it, aural wallpaper. Music can, and should be as immersive, as gripping and as emotionally engaging as a movie. By using the home theatre systems that are increasingly common these days, artists like Steven Wilson are creating audio entertainment that parallels movie soundtracks in quality of sound. Lightbulb Sun, which in fact can only be purchased at this time in a set that features the CD along with a DVD-A, is one of the best examples of how effective a 5.1 mix can be.

Take, for example, the album's second track: How Is Your Life Today. This simple little track, clocking in at under three minutes, is a true example of a 3D sound painting. Picture a dark shadowy chamber, a piano in front of you and the longing lyrics of Steven Wilson front and centre, reverberating off the walls of the chamber all around you. Then the first line of the chorus "How is your life today?" fades in from a disembodied voice over your right shoulder. The next line "How is your life?" emerges from a second voice over your left shoulder. The two voices sing the final "How is your life tooooday?" in harmony and fade to darkness. The spotlight focuses again on the echoey vocals front and centre for the second verse. "And the cat its been staring at me, all this time" is heard as the last word, "time", whooshes away as the protagonist disappears, leaving just the piano in the dark chamber. Then suddenly the room is full of harmonizing Wilsons "la la la"-ing from all directions. Things seem to be getting a bit brighter as the harpsichord joins the piano and the chorus repeats again with lush warm voices surrounding you. The light takes a sinister colour, as an evil circus-like sound takes over the chamber. As the last chord decays, everything fades to black. The pianist takes his foot off the pedal and disappears into the darkness.

Despite the flowery language, none of this at any point seems gimmicky. None of the effects scream out "look at me! I'm in surround sound! Whoosh Bang ain't that neat?". Instead one gets a real sense that there is an increased meaning and purpose in the sound placement to help tell the story of the song. This description is naturally just one man's interpretation. I implore you to seek yourself out a copy of this disc and draw your own conclusions. While this one track is definitely a standout, the entire disc is just as engaging and imaginative. I should also add that this DVD-A is a sonic masterpiece. On first listen you may find it to be on the quiet side, but that is simply a sign of excellent mastering. Use your volume knob and turn it as loud as you desire. Unlike the majority of modern CD releases, Lightbulb Sun sounds better the louder you make it. Simply put, this is audio perfection.



Friday, November 20, 2009

Steve Howe Interview from the Belfast Telegraph

Fascinating interview with Yes' guitarist. He muses about, amongst other things, life on the road, the impact of Progressive Rock on younger artists and how much Canadians sound like Jon Anderson.

Bunch of Yes men - News, Music & Gigs - Belfasttelegraph.co.uk
“We were told that there was this amazing guy in a cover band in Canada who sounded like Jon and we thought, ‘Wow, he’s obviously faking it as not many people in the world sound like Jon’, but he was the real deal. He just happens to be the other person in the world, unbelievably, who can sound naturally like him, and it doesn’t surprise me that he’s Canadian, because a lot of the twang of their accents is similar to the northern parts of England.”


Found Link: PopMatters wants more Progressive Rock in the Hall of Fame

So I wake up this morning, after a night of bizarre and often intense dreams, to discover that a website is calling on the Rock and Roll hall of fame to include more Progressive Rock bands. This wouldn't be such a strange occurrence if it wasn't for the fact that the website in question is named Pop Matters! (I rub my eyes again, splash cold watter in my face, am I still dreaming?) What's going on lately? After three decades of being ignored, and worse, being mocked ruthlessly, suddenly everyone left-right-and-centre is claiming to appreciate and understand Progressive Rock. It doesn't help that they refer to the Proggers as the "Freaks and Geeks" of Rock and Roll, but we've heard worse. Read and let me know what you make of this strangeness.

Letting the Freaks and Geeks Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame | Sound Affects | PopMatters
The nomination of Genesis is a decent start for progressive rock, but King Crimson, Yes, and Rush are still patiently waiting for nomination. One problem for progressive rock is that, in general, it’s not a genre adored by rock critics. But regardless of whether you think 2112 or Relayer is a masterpiece, progressive rock’s most notable characteristics (the odd time signature shifts, full albums broken into “acts” or “suites”) are everywhere in rock. If a song by a rock band exceeds eight minutes, chances are high that there’s going to be a Yes comparison. Even a band as critically adored as the Decemberists has garnered plenty of prog rock comparisons.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Prog Rock Guide to the Project/Object - One Size Fits All (1975)

There are a few reasons why I believe the best way to experience this album is by tracking down a copy of the original vinyl:

1. The cover design is really something to behold. It's so full of tiny intricate detail that the tiny size of the CD jewel case simply cannot do it justice. You can spend hours staring at the Zappa-fied map of the cosmos trying to just understand the meaning of it all. It's really so overflowing with imagination that you can keep yourself entertained for hours without ever taking the record out of its sleeve.

2. The sound quality of it all. For whatever reason, Zappa on CD is a messy affair. It seems that he created the digital masters for the CDs at a time of very primitive digital technology. Frank simply couldn't resist all the bells and whistles and trappings of over using them. Although this album is hardly one of the worst examples, very early-80s digital reverb is dumped all over his catalogue. There is an excellent (albeit dated looking) website that you can spend the rest of your life going over, that boldly attempts to make heads and tails of each and every Zappa release. The original vinyl version is, however, one of the best sounding releases of its day. It's warm, lush and brimming with the full breadth of frequencies that your human hearing is capable of hearing.

But wait, what about the actual music? Hmm, just give me 40 minutes or so to listen to this sucker and I'll get back to you...

Wow, just....wow! I had to stop listening after just the first side because I was so overwhelmed by it all, and I've heard this thing countless times! Where to begin? How about the beginning? Inca Roads! An undisputed Zappa classic in every sense. Originally composed as an extremely complex instrumental, the lyrics about flying saucers landing in the Andes are certainly amusing but hardly the main attractive. Did I mention that this lineup features one of the most talented ensembles ever assembled by Frank Zappa (or anybody for that matter)? Well I should have. The percussion throughout this album is a marvel to gawk at, but nowhere is this more apparent than Inca Roads. Ruth Underwood and Chester Thomson are on fire here. Zappa was always writing the most complex marimba parts for Mrs. Underwood to tackle and she seemingly could handle it all and make it look easy at the same time! And then there is the guitar solo. You can think of this as a song within a song. It's so perfectly constructed and played you'd think Zappa worked on its composition for days, except he didn't. It was improvised live at a concert in Helsinki and pasted on here. Inspirational stuff.

While Inca Roads is the main attraction on side one, the quality throughout never drops. Can't Afford No Shoes is the least Progressive item on the menu, but its lyrics concerning the economic hardship of recession will probably ring truer today then they even did in the volatile 1970s. Sofa #1 may be one of Zappa's grandest instrumentals. You'd think it would have some sort of serious epic meaning behind it if it were not for the reprise that occurs at the end of the album (we'll get there later). Po-Jama People, Zappa's tribute to all those boring dull folks in the world (and boy, are there ever plenty of them) is another guitar showcase. I really can't think of another guitarist that was playing like that in the 70s. The licks here cover the full range from the dirty bluesy intro to the rousing solo in the second half of the track. If you don't have the ending coda stuck in your head for days after hearing it (Wrap 'em up, Roll 'em out, Get 'em out of my way, Hoy Hoy Hoy!) then you simply aren't human. Period.

(Takes a deep breath) Alright, give me another 20 minutes while I indulge in side 2...

Pffffff.....Jeez. Somehow the second side is seemingly more rampant with musical ideas than the first, and it's a whole minute shorter! This is unbelievable stuff. It's the kind of album that conflicts me as a potential aspiring musician and composer. On one hand, I feel so inspired by the sheer amount of musical ideas presented here, and the seamless skill on display executing said ideas, that I feel that there is just so many possibilities to create something likewise. On the other hand, I'm just so intimidated by the fact that all of this came out of one man's head that even trying to create something similar would certainly pale so much in comparison, it's not even worth attempting.

Take, for example, Florentine Pogen. In its first two minutes or so you hear sooo many musical ideas and riffs. How does he do it? They are all catchy and complex yet it flows seamlessly. In fact, the recording on the album was taken directly from this TV performance. That's right, it's all done live! This band was a well oiled machine. They make it look so easy and appear to be having fun while doing it to boot. Chester Thomson was completely wasted during the 80s playing with Phil Collins' Genesis. This is impressive playing. And how about Napoleon Murphy Brock on vocals? You know Zappa discovered this guy playing in some corny night club in Hawaii?

The second last track, Andy, is another contender for 'most musical ideas crammed into a delightful six minute package'. It's Progressive, yet has a bluesy soulful charm that makes it simply addictive to listen to. A masterpiece without a doubt. San Ber'dino is another track that, were it written by anyone else and included on any other album, would be hailed as an all time great song. Sadly, it's packed into an album with so many great pieces and composed by the most prolific artist of its time. It seems almost forgotten in time. And then the album closes with Sofa #2. Reprising the melody of the instrumental from side one, it lyrically is based on the idea that (and I'm not making this up folks) God is singing an ode to a giant maroon sofa that happens to be floating in space, in German! Just look at the album cover! There is the sofa, and there is God's hand, holding a cigar (of course).

You think that putting such silly concepts onto such beautiful melodies may have diminished their impact? You bet. By doing this time and time again throughout his career, Frank Zappa has proven that you can make music that is complex, challenging and progressive without taking yourself at all seriously and being pretentious. Why isn't this album, and many others by Zappa, considered the out-and-out classics that they are? The humour contained in his lyrics are so disarming that you might not even bother to appreciate the musical ideas that he kept churning out throughout his tragically short life.

This album is not the easiest one to get into. It's a dense work that is brimming with some of the best music of the time. My recommendation is to take your time. You'll need to listen to it a few times over before you start to appreciate its genius. Once you do, once you 'get' it, you will undoubtedly regard this album as an all time classic of Progressive Rock. It's Progressive Rock in the truest meaning of the term. Oh yeah, it's fun and catchy too!

On the next instalment, I'm going to take a look at one of the earliest examples of real Progressive Rock, The Mothers of Invention's Absolutely Free.

News: They're baaaack. ELP reunite once again.

According to their official website:
ELP agrees to headline the new High Voltage Festival, the UK's new flagship classic rock event, on Sunday July 25, 2010. It is expected that fans from Europe, USA, Japan and around the globe will fly into London to see this much anticipated and unique event.
Emerson, Lake and Palmer

How excited you are by this news depends on your opinion of the band itself, of course. The band most easily cited as an example of the excess of Progressive bands in the mid to late seventies, you either love them or hate them. (or love their early material and can't stand their later material, Pirates etc..) As somebody who has often criticized older artists of cashing in on past successes, (cough, Roger Waters) I'm not entirely sure how enthusiastic I can be with a band that hasn't recorded anything worthwhile in well over 30 years. Plus Greg Lake is HUGE these days...eh?



Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review: Klaatu - Hope (1977)

The Prog Rock Blog is now proud to present a short dialogue in between a disillusioned hippie in 1976 and myself in the present.

Man From 1976: Hey Dude, check it out! The Beatles are back together.

Me in the Present: No, no they aren't.

Man: Dude! They are! Check out this album. It's the Beatles reunited under the name Klaatu!

Me: Why would the Beatles secretly reunite under the name of a character from the film The Day The Earth Stood Still. Trust me, it's not them.

Man: Ya! It so is! (takes large amount of drugs) I'm telling you man, it's like a conspiracy dude.

Me: Nah, it's just three random dudes from Toronto. I should know, I'm from the future. I went to high school with the drummer's son!

Man: (passes out from all the drugs)


Me: From the perspective of hindsight, you might wonder exactly how desperate people were in the late 70s. Listening to Klaatu's debut album, you would really have to stretch your imaginations just a bit to see where anybody might get the idea that this was the Beatles in disguise. Besides the sugary pop harmonies, these Canadians only kinda sound like Lennon/McCartney. In any case, the lack of any liner notes detailing who exactly was in the band was enough to have most people thinking along these lines. Klaatu may have been trying to milk this illusion when they also released their second album without revealing their true identities. The problem with that was Hope is even farther removed from the Beatle-esque pop of the first album.

The album is a cautionary tale of a civilization on another planet who, despite their arrogance, were lay to waste. The first track is so clearly an attempt to milk the Beatles illusion as far as one could take it. It's so derivative of the kind of sound the Beatles had in the late-sixties that maybe - just maybe, you might have believed the rumours. Unfortunately as the album continues, the band shows much more diversity. Wait, it's not unfortunate at all! In fact, this album turns out to be one of the great examples of late 1970s Canadian Progressive Rock. Klaatu really flex their musical muscles here showing that they can provide the musical chops to back up this ambitious story. In fact, they even employ the London Symphony Orchestra on a few of the more epic tracks.

The plot line appears to me as a sort of condemning of American egotism. It was easy, I suppose, to see just how the American way of life could lead to disastrous consequences from up here in the great white north. Basically Klaatu used the guise of science fiction in much the same way Rush used Trees. I'm not quite sure why this sentiment seemed so rampant amongst Canadian bands at the time. I guess since we're too polite to ever criticize anyone directly, we'll do it through song.

Musically speaking, this album is an absolute joy to listen to. Tracks like Long Live Politzania and Prelude just sparkle from the speakers full of musical ideas and excellent orchestration. As a matter of fact, this album won the Juno (Canada's cheapo imitation Grammy awards) for Best Engineered Album and it's easy to see why. The original vinyl sounds so lush and full, using the full reach of the dynamic range available to the format to dramatic effect. They cram so many ideas into the instrumental track Prelude, yet it never sounds too busy or cluttered. Clearly an example of some of the best production values to come out of Canada in the late 70s. Did I mention that this album is full of catchy melodies? No? Well I should have! It is! You'll be humming the bouncy chorus to The Loneliest of Creatures for days on end after hearing it.

All in all this album is a forgotten classic in my opinion. Klaatu's legacy sadly seems to be nothing more than 'the band everyone thought was the Beatles reunited". It should actually be the achievement of this fantastic Progressive concept album. Coming at the start of the Punk movement this album was sadly ignored. So do yourself a favour and try and hunt this one down in a used record store. It may be worth it for the stunning cover art depicting the crumbling decays of a once mighty civilization, and the lighthouse beam scanning the cosmos.

Sadly, this album would be the first and last masterpiece for Klaatu. They instead went into a more pop-rock generic simple song vein over their next few albums, even putting a picture of themselves on the sleeve or their next LP, thus putting an end to all Beatle rumours once and for all.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Video: Ed Palermo Big Band - King Kong

Oh, and if you enjoyed that long interview with Ed Palermo I linked to in the previous post, then I thought I'd share this fine video document of Ed's Big Band doing a stunning live rendition of Zappa's King Kong. I believe they were about to break into King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man as the clip ends.

Links: Cool People Playing Zappa

While things are busy behind the scenes here at The Prog Rock Blog, I thought I'd share some cool articles with you. Enjoy!

Ed Palermo: We're Only In It For The Music

Opus 21's rendition of Zappa's artier side wins standing ovation

Saturday, November 14, 2009

News: Greg Lake Relaunches his Website - Live Chat Tomorrow

For all you fans of the ballooning body that is Greg Lake, he has recently relaunched his website. As part of all the hoopla surrounding this fact, the man himself will be there to answer fan and media questions in a live chat Sunday afternoon/evening. If you are interested, go to greglake.com for more info.

greg lake.com
Join us November 15th at 10pm GMT, 5pm ET for a live chat with Greg.


Link: All About Jazz review of the 40th Anniversary Edition of ITCOTCK

In anticipation of my in-depth look into Steven Wilson's 5.1 remix of this all time Progressive Rock classic, I thought I'd share with you this review which does a decent enough job giving a broad overview of this new release. They also reviewed the other albums recently rereleased (Lizard and Red) but those reviews were crappy in comparison. I'm going to focus on the surround sound treatment and go into a bit more depth in terms of how this thing sounds, but All About Jazz's review is fairly deep and resoundingly positive. 

King Crimson: In the Court of the Crimson King (40th Anniversary Series)
For the first time since its initial release, not just remixed but remastered as well in both stereo and 5.1 surround, the 40th Anniversary Series incarnation of In the Court of the Crimson King is the gold standard against which all previous editions will be measured—and, ultimately, fail.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Essay: Let's get serious here for just a second...Prog Rock in the online age

In light of that Cracked article I posted here, I thought I would add a serious essay as contrast.

While there is no secret of how the over-the-top nature of bands like Emerson, Lake and Palmer in the mid to late 70s has indeed cast the name of Progressive Rock in negative light over the last three decades, I do have reason to believe that the internet is starting to bring some perspective to the perception of the 'genre'. While all the negative aspects listed in the Cracked satire have some justification, the angle taken in judgment of music is altogether wrong-headed. The focus on style over substance in the music industry is a direct product of the need to increase profits in the era of the mass market. The dumbing down of all media (TV, Radio, Newspapers etc...) over the last 30 years reflects the need for the corporations selling content to reach as broad an audience as possible. Then the internet came along...

When dealing in the mass market, art is something that can't really be sold. The risk of signing a band that focuses on pushing boundaries and experimenting on form, structure and overall sound is a risk that a big corporation dealing with big bucks just simply couldn't take on. While they were slow to catch on to the Progressive revolution in the late 60s and early 70s, they jumped at the Punk and New Wave movement. The focus of those 'genres' was far more on appearance and basic aesthetics then the actual music. What a punk band wore on stage was usually far more important then what they played. The folks in charge of marketing music at big record labels were clearly thrilled by this prospect because it made their jobs much easier.

They used to play all kinds of stuff
And some of it was nice
Some of it was musical
But then they took some guy's advice
To get a record deal, he said
They would have to be more punk
Forget their chops and play real dumb
Or else they would be sunk
So off they go to S.I.R. to learn some stupid riffs
And practice all their poses
In between their powder sniffs
Chop up a line now, snort it up now
And when they think they've got it
They launch a new career
Who gives a fuck if what they play
Is somewhat insincere
Did you know that in Tinsel Town the people there
Think substance is a bore
And if your New Wave group looks good
They'll hurry on back for more
Of leather groups and plastic groups
And groups that look real queer
The Tinsel Town aficionados
Come to see and not to hear

-Frank Zappa
lyrics from the song Tinsel Town Rebellion



Zappa knew exactly what was happening. While Punk was being sold as a rebellion to the 'snobby' sounds of the Progressive bands, most people were completely ignorant to how conservative it was musically. The notion of rebellion may have existed in the fashion of Punk, but musically it was as far from pushing the boundaries as it could possibly be. It was, in fact, an undoing of progress. It was a rehashing of a form of rock that had already been done. It ignored all the giant leaps Rock had undergone and return to retread old ground. Conservative in every which way, it followed the notion that things were better in the 'good old days' while ignoring all the latest evidence and the need to move forward. Like an oppressive religion, all those who doubted that the punk way was the right way were ridiculed and dismissed.

The effects of the corporate need to sell a 'product' far out weighed the true notion that music is an art form that is made to be listened to and not to be looked at. In the years that followed Punk we saw the birth of MTV that further compromised and plasticized music. The work of the true rebellion that took place in the late 60s, the idea that musicians are artists and therefor should create art, was replaced with the notion that musicians as salesmen, pushing a product.

What you had in the 80s and 90s was a few generations deprived of any exposure to music that didn't fit the 'paint-by-numbers' formula created by the record labels as the only sounds that were sell-able. The radio dial was full of same-sounding derivative replications of the same song over and over again. It's a wonder that I was able to discover as much Progressive music as I did, mainly as a result of combing through used record stores and finding the gems of the 70s and ignoring the top 40. Most of my pears were not so wise and ate up the corporate spew as feverishly as they could. A generation whose exposure to sound was dictated by the profit-margins of men in suits sitting in a board room.

The internet has slowly diminished this stranglehold on what a young person was able to hear.  It was now possible to figure out that, wait a second, not all music has to sound exactly the same. The so called 'rules' were mere fabrications of an industry focused on making billions at any cost. You could actually listen to music because it could be interesting, entertaining, emotional and all other things that it never was. Lightbulbs started to appear over the heads of many a young person. Bands like Porcupine Tree, always pushing the boundaries, started to gain large audiences. Before you knew it an album with a 55 minute title track was appearing on the top 40 charts, something unheard of in over 30 years. All because the internet has opened doors long closed by the media empires of the world.

I don't think we can underestimate what the internet means to folks who enjoy listening to music. The long-gone act of spending an evening in front of your hi-fi system listening to an epic concept album is viable again. Artist can make music that is engaging without fear of record labels rejecting it. The platforms exist now for artists to return to making music once again. So laugh all you want at silly dress and style of the 70s Prog bands. Remember though, when it comes to Progressive the appearance doesn't matter, it's about the music. And thanks to the internet, the music is back.