Thursday, October 29, 2009

Yes Tour Update

Today begins a new European leg of the 3/5 Yes Tour. I refer to them in this way since, as I'm sure you've heard by now, Jon and Rick are nowhere to be seen. Replacing them are Rick's song Oliver Wakeman on keyboards and fellow Canadian Benoit David (who actually does a perfect Jon Anderson impersonation circa 1972, so if you close your eyes you really shouldn't know the difference).

All the details and tour dates are found on YesWorld.

Gentle Giant Go Digital

Everyone's favorite quirky Prog band with a creepy mascot are joining the 21st Century! EMI has released information on finally moving some of their catalog into the digital realm. Expect to see some (not all) of Gentle Giant's albums appear on various online music stores soon. (iTunes, Amazon etc..) According to the press release "In a Glass House, The Power & The Glory, Freehand, Interview, Playing The Fool-The Official Live, The Missing Piece and Giant For a Day will become available through all digital channels."

While those of us who have already purchased these albums on various formats over the years, the addition of new bonus tracks may make these worth getting. Although, if you can pick and choose which tracks to by as you can on services like iTunes, then maybe it would be better to just pick up the new bonus material.

Also, new CD remasters are expected to be released next year, this time "Re-Mastered from the original 1" inch tapes through Hi-Resolution (24bit 96k) transfer." While the audio geek in me like this idea, I'd be way more excited if they were to remix them into 5.1 Surround Sound and release high resolution DVD-Audio discs much in the same way King Crimson are currently doing. That would make these a must buy. Otherwise, I'm not quite sure who are going to pick these up.

The whole press release can be found on Gentle Giant's website.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Prog Rock Guide to the Project/Object - Introduction

Here begins a new series of posts dedicated to Frank Zappa. Let me try to explain...

Well. Well well well. Where to begin? Hmmm... You see, dear reader, I couldn't imagine a task in the music world more difficult then trying to "get into" Frank Zappa's music. All you have to do is take one glance at the sheer amount of albums the guy put out over his short life to see how daunting trying to grasp his work is. Go ahead, take a look. See what I mean? It just keeps going and going and going and going. Now keep in mind that the bulk of the man's music is dense, complicating, often drifting into the realms of atonal and avant-garde. Don't forget the fact that his music is totally unique. No other composer sounds like Zappa. His influence range as far as 50s Doo-Wop to the avant-garde composers like Edgard Varese and Igor Stravinsky. His music often drew directly from these inspirations but were not limited to them. Not by a long shot. I'd be hard pressed to find a composer more diverse than Zappa. He tried pretty much anything he felt like, often only once. Not all his music was inaccessible either, far from it. The guy had a knack for good melody and even had a few hit records here and there. The hardest thing for a Zappa beginner is deciding where to start.

Zappa was also a keen social-satirist. His lyrics often were meant as a critique on all the silly shallow and self-important figures in life. Nobody was safe from Zappa's sharp tongue and willingness to express his opinion. The problem I find is that this aspect has very quickly overshadowed Zappa's music. His name often creates images of outrageously offensive lyrics, over the top stage performances and an anti-establishment attitude. Very rarely is Zappa seen as I think he should be perceived: One of the greatest composers of the 20th Century.

Since this is a music blog I'm going to focus on Zappa the composer and Zappa the musician. There has been so much written about the guy from all angles that in order to present some new takes on his life and work I'm going to focus on what I know: Music as Art. Zappa's music ranges from all possible genres. He was a classical composer (in fact his first stabs at writing music was indeed composing chamber music as a teenager), a big band jazz composer (the focus for most Prog fans, rightly or wrongly), a pioneer of live recording (a few of his 'studio' albums were indeed recorded live in concert and spruced up and overdubbed in the studio) and a driving band leader who pushed the musical abilities of anyone who joined him to the very limits.

I wouldn't recommend you try to 'learn' his music in the same way I did. I've always liked a few Zappa albums, but it was only in the last few months that I've really dug into all his work. And I really went deep; I tried to do it all in one go. The whole thing, without any breaks. This is a very demanding and dangerous task. Unless you are keen on going mad I say do not do this. Instead explore Zappa in chunks. Pick a few albums and listen to them until you feel comfortable and familiar with them. Then, take a break. Go listen to someone else, something simple and enjoyable. I'm certain that Zappa's brain was super-sized and could handle all of this vast and complex music, but for the average human being it's simply too much to synthesize at once.

For the next post in this series I'm going to the end of Zappa's touring career: the 1988 tour. In particular the album I'm going to explore is "The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life". It may be the perfect introduction to the world of Zappa and should be ideal for the Prog-Minded listener.

Until then, let me know what comes to mind when you think of Frank Zappa. Are you a life-long fan or are you just a casual listener who knows the "Strictly Commercial" compilation and not much else?

Don't forget

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Preview of Upcoming Series here at the Prog Rock Blog

Next week will see the beginning of two new features on this here blog. In addition to Reviews and News from the world of Progressive Rock I will be embarking on two series that will essentially consist of two in depth studies of subjects that I have been obsessing over recently.

First, I've finally done it. I've arrived at the point where I think I know the work of Frank Zappa. Now, as any of you who might be familiar with Uncle Frank's body of work, this is no easy feat. In fact, despite my prior knowledge of quite a few of his albums, I don't think anything could have prepared me for how life changing getting to know his overall oeuvre can be. I've been reading various biographies and devouring any interviews that I can find with him online. I have come to the point where I almost feel it's my duty to attempt to get as many people as I can into Zappa's world. The guy is so darned misunderstood and so sorely underrated that I couldn't have it any other way. The approach I'll take is attempt to provide a super detailed look into his albums (studio and live) and try to explain them with a Prog Rock mentality in mind. I'm going to do my part to introduce new generations to his genius in a way that Dweezil and his Zappa plays Zappa traveling museum band never could. My first Zappa essay should be out early next week.

Second, surround sound! Being a former student of all things Audio at a prestigious (and highly overrated) University program here in Toronto, I have gained a better understanding of all things SOUND. I have been able to put together an extremely cheap but usable 5.1 Surround System and have slowly been collecting music to take advantage of all those speakers. I've recently come to an amazing conclusion: Prog Rock is meant to be heard in Surround Sound! Yes folks, all these decades of listening to Rock music on two speakers has been a complete waste. Surround sound is the way to go! With the recent release of Genesis' catalog in 5.1 and the even more recent King Crimson DVD-Audio releases, the view has been firmly cemented into place. The problem is, nobody ever takes the idea of surround sound and music seriously. In the 1970s plenty of great Prog albums were released in Quadraphonic sound, but despite some well done mixes the format suffered from imperfect technologies and competing standards that were messy and probably confusing for the uneducated consumers. In 2003 the record labels repeated this exact same mistake with SACD and DVD-Audio. Nobody really understood what these formats were and the confusion lead to more flops. Despite the terrible market (or lack there of) for surround music, I have been able to scrounge up a decently sized collection of SACDs and DVD-As. In addition there has been an amazing effort by music fans online to convert old Quad recordings into digital formats. The result is a huge collection of Prog and Prog related albums available for me to attempt to share with you. I'll be reviewing these albums one at a time and provide enough mouth watering detail that may entice you to invest in a system to play back these formats in the comfort of your own home. If you are serious about music (and what Prog fan ain't?) and the idea of sitting down on the couch for a distraction-free listening session of your favorite albums sounds like the best way to spend an evening (beats socializing that's for sure) then I think you will see many benefits to 5.1 Surround Sound.

So that's just a little tease of what I'm working on here at the Prog Rock Blog. A Prog Rock Guide to the Project/Object and Surrounded by Prog will commence next week. Also, I plan to just hammer out essays on as many classic Prog albums as I can. If you have a favorite that hasn't been covered here yet, leave a comment and let me know.

Until next time, don't forget to stay true to your musical opinions and...


Monday, October 19, 2009

REVIEW: Porcupine Tree - The Incident

However much I tried, each attempt to compose this review resulted in me discarding what I had written. The problem is that this album has received quite a bit of media attention. One of my intentions whenever I do any writing is to be original. I don't want to repeat what others have already written. What's the point? There is so much obnoxious repetitious trash online already. One benefit of focusing on the obscure Progressive albums that is the point of this blog, is that quite often there is scarce prior work in terms of reviews on the web. Thus, originality is all too easy. Then Porcupine Tree came along...

As I've mentioned recently, Porcupine Tree has garnered unprecedented success with their most recent album The Incident. A quick glance at this Wikipedia article will serve as ample proof of this fact. While this isn't exactly a number one hit, you have to remember that this is in reality a ONE SONG ALBUM!!! When was the last time such a composition reached such heights in the popular charts? I would guess that honor would most likely befall Jethro Tull's A Passion Play. That number one album contained one epic length 'song' split into various sections and movements. The Incident follows a similar structure. In the year 2009, nearly four decades removed from the peak of Progressive Rock's popularity, this is quite an achievement.

This brings me to my own opinion on this album. Since the vast majority of the press reviews have been positive, I considered staking my claim to originality by panning the work. When the album was released I was deep into a study of Frank Zappa's catalog and Steven Wilson's latest composition seemed all too simple and tame in comparison. Really though, who was I kidding? I'm sure most things sound simplistic and formulaic when compared to Zappa's creativity. Porcupine Tree was never about complexity and insane originality. Comparing them to Zappa would be like comparing computer monitors with banana peels.

I then remembered Mr. Wilson's general hatred towards the modern day 'download culture' and the Single Track mentality that comes along with that. He's an album man! He comes from a background of creating long flowing compositions that are meant to be digested in one sitting. In a way, The Incident's structure is really a way of encouraging the '3 minute song' crowd to consider the album as a whole as opposed to simply a collection of unrelated tracks. Every one of Porcupine Tree's albums actually does follow this model, but this didn't stop the modern day music fan from going on iTunes and just purchasing Trains instead of all of In Absentia in one go.

What does that make The Incident then? In one sense you could compare its effects on popular culture to what The Beatles did with Sargent Pepper's in the 60s. (Of course Porcupine Tree is still completely obscure by comparison so the comparison isn't really fair.) After decades of the Hit Single ruling the music business, The Incident proves once again that it is The Album that is the real platform for creative composers in the Rock genre. The way Wilson guides you through the extended length of The Incident provides a powerful experience that simply cannot be achieved in the 3-5 minute length of a single song. It is only after sitting through the 55 minute composition that even the most skeptical Pop Song fan should realize that music is really capable of being much more than a catchy tune and a nice voice.

As my last essay stated, I am sure that creativity is making a comeback. The faster the old monolithic record companies bite the dust, the better it will be for music as a serious art form. I feel that the age of Big Money in the world of music has reduced it from a true medium of creativity to bland aural wallpaper, decorating the bland boring life of the bland sheepish consumer. I have always believed that listening to music can provide as much emotional and intellectual stimulation as a good film or book. Those of us who chose to stick with Progressive Rock during the 80s, 90s and 00s are already well aware of this fact. Let's all encourage Mr. Wilson and the rest of Porcupine Tree as much success as possible. They are on the front lines of a musical revolution that started online but is making its way, however slowly, through the current of our societies.

Oh, and if you haven't guessed, The Incident comes with my highest recommendations! If you have yet to purchase it, do so immediately and help spur on music's renewal.

Keep The Prog Alive!!!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

VIDEO: Gavin Harrison - The Sound Of Muzak

As I work on my Porcupine Tree album review, I thought I would share this video with you. PT's drummer Gavin Harrison has to be one of the best, if not the best, in the industry today. Having seen him and the rest of the band play here in Toronto last week I was reminded of just how insanely easy he makes it look. Here is a solo drum performance from Modern Drummer 2008. If you are reading this blog I might have to assume you are familiar with this track (if not then run out and grab a copy of In Absentia right now!) The guy seems almost bored pulling out all the stops on some of these fills.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

2009 - The Year Prog Got Its 9/8 Groove Back

This is something that I've long suspected would take place. In a sense I'm a bit surprised it took so long.

You see my friends, for the last 30-some-odd-years mainstream music was taken away from the true artists and given to big business. Somewhere in the late-70s the big record labels decided that it would be much easier to sell oodles of records if the music was stripped of all creativity and unleashed the so called "punk revolution". This, of course, was nothing but a scam. Unfortunately the average person loves a good scam. Punk took off and Prog groups were left to either strip their music of what made it so interesting (Yes, Genesis) or disappear off the face of the planet (Gentle Giant). Some groups were able to keep innovating during this period (the 80s) but most either sold out or gave up.

For the next three decades corporations ruled the music world. They used their ever growing media empires to brainwash and control a few generations of music fans into thinking that it was hip and cool to sound, dress and act the same as everyone else. Innovations were frowned upon. The tag of "Pretentious" was hastily slapped on any group that attempted to break the tight formulaic restraints placed on them by the record companies. The outlets that reached the masses, radio and television, became swamped with same-sounding music and generic composition. How could a young music fan even comprehend the possibilities unearthed by the Prog giants of old if all he/she was exposed to was three minute songs all structured the same?

Then the Internet happened. Suddenly the corporations couldn't control the music the public heard. Young persons (such as myself) could discover that, yes indeed, you could write a song longer than 5 minutes. In discovering the adventurous music of the early 70s a whole new world was opened up. Music from the radio seemed all too boring. Every new hit single sounding like the last. Why limit music? The human ear can hear so much sound why does everything sound the same? These are the sort of questions that lead myself and many of the same era to discover Prog Rock online.

It has taken a few decades, but finally bands that don't have the benefit of huge corporate backing and endless radio play are showing up on the album charts. Porcupine Tree's most recent and most successful album to date is the perfect example.

In my next post I will take a look at the unlikely success of The Incident. I'll review the album and examine how its success and the success of other adventurous artists are signaling a new era of music. I'll conclude by quoting a track from the Frank Zappa release QuAUDIOPHILIAc:

"Once upon a time, a record company had A&R people in it who would take a chance, make a decision, use their gut reaction, sign a group, and see what they could do with it. Okay? That was, whoa, a long time ago. It's not that way anymore. All decisions about who get signed and what happens to the record are made by these drooling little midrange accountants. And everything is based on the numbers games in there. And the taste of the accountants is what is ruling the mass media. It's all just the dollars and cents of exchange. And if you wanna make music that you believe in, the chances of doing it on a major label basis are nil, because they're all so frightened. Everybody's there trying to protect their job. And it's easy-- it's easier to look like a wise executive by saying no to something if it's just the most minutely fringe-oid in terms of content.

The horrible part of it is the artists who are feeding this ecological chain stop making songs they believe in and start making product that they know will be airable. And they change the style of what they're doing to fit within the narrow framework that is the contemporary accepted norm for suitable, radio-sounding music. And anything that comes outside of that norm doesn't go on the air, you don't hear about it, you don't know about it. Right now there's probably hundreds of artists in the United States making great sounds and great music. You'll never hear it. You'll never find out about it "
- Frank Zappa

Monday, October 05, 2009

We're back...

What a crazy year it has been! While my personal life has been preventing me from regularly writing on this here blog, I have not stopped my never-ending fascination with the world of Progressive Rock. I have plenty to say and suddenly some spare time in which I can share my thoughts with you. In fact, I plan to post here at a rate never before imagined. Our URL ( is no longer in service, you can still find the site at its old address

Some subjects I plan on tackling in the next few days:

Porcupine Tree's The Incident - Prog is back in the mainstream!!!

King Crimson in 5.1 - The new releases are just around the corner and I'll have full reviews on each and every one.

My 'prog minded' guide to Frank Zappa - One of the most underrated composers ever, I hope to guide new listeners into his vast back catalog and help new generations discover his greatness.

Of course you can expect all the latest news, reviews and opinions from the ever expanding Prog world.

I hope you are as excited as I am. Tell your friends! The Prog Rock Blog is back!!!!

Keep the Prog Alive!!!

Listening to: Premiata Forneria Marconi - Generale