ProgBlog

By ProgBlog, Jun 15 2020 09:03PM

Even though much of the world has been in lockdown to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, many musicians have been working away on new material and over the last few weeks ProgBlog has been inundated with requests for reviewing/featuring a wide range of prog-related singles and EPs, from pop-prog to protest song to symphonic metal to punk-progressive metal, all submitted for viewing with a video. It’s a testament to the unifying power of music that groups have been able to write, record and distribute material through such turbulent times – Manchester’s New Luna managed to play a session in New York before catching one of the last flights back to the UK before global passenger air travel ground to a halt. Here are the singles I’ve been listening to and watching:



Fughu (Argentina) Right from the Bone (from the album Lost Connection)



Fughu play aggressive metal tempered with prog flourishes and a punk attitude. Their story began when guitarist Ariel Bellizio met drummer Alejandro Lopez at school in Buenos Aires in 1999, before recruiting Marcelo Malmerica (keyboards), Juan Manuel Lopez (bass) and opera singer Santiago Burgi. Armed with influences as varied as Megadeath, Deep Purple, Kiss, ELP, Van der Graaf Generator, King Crimson and tango composer Astor Piazzolla, the group took on the name Fughu. In March 2008, Fughu were selected by Mike Portnoy to be Dream Theater’s opening act at the 9000 capacity Luna Park Stadium. The following year they self-produced their well-received first album Absence, and followed that with the simultaneous release of conceptual pieces Human – The Tales and Human – The Facts in May 2013. Both works received glowing reviews and opened the door to overseas tours, including European dates in Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Austria during 2015.

Santiago Burgi left the band and returned to opera in 2016, replaced by Renzo Favaro. The new-look formation began touring Argentina in 2018 when they were honoured to be the opening act for Premiata Forneria Marconi in their home city, fine tuning what they regard as their most defiant work, 2019’s Lost Connection


https://youtu.be/XpEEY0Ne9Ew



Silver Nightmares (Italy) The Wandering Angel (from the EP The Wandering Angel)


Silver Nightmares was formed in Palermo in 2018 by bassist Gabriele Esposito, drummer Alessio Maddaloni and keyboardist Gabriele Taormina, going through several configurations until arriving at its current line-up with Mimmo Garofalo (guitars) before setting about writing and orchestrating the musical material that would make up their debut EP The Wandering Angel (2020). For recording, the quartet was augmented by Simone Bonomo and Michele Vitrano (vocals), Giulio Maddaloni (flute), Tody Nuzzo (guitars) and Davide Severino (trumpet). Their pool of influences ranges through progressive rock, AOR, heavy metal and classical music with acts such as Asia, Genesis, Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Styx, Kansas, Toto, Iron Maiden, Jethro Tull, Foreigner, Dream Theater, Opeth, Ghost, Marillion, Anathema, Katatonia and Judas Priest.

The five-track EP is a concept piece concerning the loss of human spirituality. A wandering angel, from the distant star of life, falls from heaven and gradually becomes ever more contaminated by the corruption on earth. The story is illustrated by the fate of the natural world, heroes of the past and shrewd present day characters


https://youtu.be/omV0T8kaBoo



New Luna (UK) Prunus



Affirming their reputation with a series of intense sold-out shows across Manchester last year, New Luna spent their final days before lockdown in New York for The New Colossus Festival and performed a head-turning Paste Magazine live session just hours before catching one of the final flights out of New York. Their sound has been described as ‘dream-pop reimagined for the Mancunian drizzle’ (Clash Magazine), a unique blend of post-punk and dream-pop that has earned them nods from the likes of Piccadilly Records and BBC Introducing. Tipped by Paste as one of the need-to-know Manchester artists, the band have performed at multiple major festivals and opened for softcore psyche band Childcare and alt-rockers Happyness, Kagoule, and October Drift.

Though it’s really not the sort of thing normally considered to be in the ProgBlog remit, it does blend a number of styles and I found myself quite enjoying it. Post-punk vies with guitar-driven dream-pop as the most dominant sound but mixed in with all this is a dose of psychedelia and the whole thing is held together with solid rhythm and intelligent, imaginative drumming – the interview at Paste suggests there are hip-hop references and Stewart Copeland is cited as an inspiration. The twin guitars work well together whichever style dominates, and there’s an admirable degree of variation


https://youtu.be/teRLVPZ93Y0



Moon Letters (USA) The Red Knight and On the Shoreline (from the album Until They Feel the Sun)



More about Moon Letters can be found on the ProgBlog DISCovery page http://progblog.co.uk/discovery-17-moon-letters/4594741702


youtu.be/ysohUexhhPo

youtu.be/I8iZMCFaSSI



Konarucchi (New Zealand) They Follow (from the forthcoming EP Stuck in Daydreams)



They Follow is a track inspired by alternative / progressive rock, influenced by bands such as Muse, Porcupine Tree, and The Pineapple Thief. The song is about someone reaching out for help because their bad thoughts and feelings are getting overwhelming, and they don't know what's wrong or how they can fix it. It's the second single off the debut EP Stuck in Daydreams, released at the end of May.

Konarucchi, who mostly performs solo acoustic or with his alt pop-rock band Pale Lady, is a multi-genre solo artist from the small town of Wainuiomata in New Zealand. He likes to experiment with many different styles of music, without focusing on how they will fit together, because he believes that cohesion in music comes from the artist rather than the genre. This idea has a clear influence in the music he creates, and is strongly apparent in Stuck in Daydreams. The EP has many different influences, ranging from jazz to rock to alternative to electronic to metal, which work harmoniously together to create an amalgamation of this raw emotional silliness (his words) he calls an EP. The material is a step-up from his normal work, employing a backing band of honed musicians in order to play the full versions of the songs from this EP


https://youtu.be/YxlPeqqDxH0



Kitten Pyramid (UK) Doughnuts



Experimental UK pop-proggers and The Guardian newspaper darlings Kitten Pyramid have just released a new song Doughnuts, the first track to be taken from upcoming album Koozy!, due out next year.

Seven years on from their acclaimed self-released debut Uh-Oh! and five since the ambitious High Five Scuba Dive EP, Burton-on-Trent singer-songwriter Scott Milligan, aka Kitten Pyramid, presents the new track Doughnuts, a reflective hymn to the importance of real people, ordinary lives and the march of time, carefully coordinated to coincide with National Doughnut Day. Milligan describes Doughnuts as embracing the beauty in repetition and of the mundane, saying 'it’s about the chirpy train of death rhythmically chuffing and clunking away behind us, getting louder as we get older.' Employing a Milligan family-and-friends choir, it begins with soft chanting before the introduction of a simple piano melody, subtle steam-engine percussion and A Day In The Life drums, building to a brass and strings-laden climax as Milligan details items of routine and domestic humdrum.

Superficially lightweight but really rather deep, Doughnuts and its accompanying video (filmed during the current lockdown) is subtle prog dressed in readily-digestible pop clothes


https://youtu.be/6gcsbUE7qgw



The Dowling Poole (UK) Deep Breath



The Deep Breath single doesn’t appear on The Dowling Poole's recently released third album See You See Me but was produced during lockdown and sums up the upheavals we are all enduring. Willie Dowling and Jon Poole have no qualms about penning political songs, and though they write catchy pop tunes the subject matter is treated with prog-seriousness.

Dowling suggests it tends to be those to the right of centre who advocate the hypothesis that music and politics is an unholy mix, in an attempt to protect the status quo. Explaining that almost everything that touches our lives is political by definition, he says any serious songwriter will be saying something in their songs about the recent immense events and the way that they touch their lives: 'Music is a powerful way of connecting people, and since the 1960s, established power worldwide [has been] aware of this and is keen to ignore, mock or condemn any critique of power made in song form.'

It’s pleasing that The Dowling Poole is free to speak up about what they believe in and highlight the injustices that surround them. In keeping with these ideals, the video for Deep Breath features footage contributed by fans of the band from around the world who have documented their recent experiences of protest and lockdown


https://youtu.be/ommwIdGKm20



Quantum (Sweden) The Next Breath of Air (EP)



Quantum is Anton Ericsson, Oscar Lundin, Marcus Lundberg and Samuel Walfridssona, a progressive rock band from Stockholm influenced by music ranging from classic-era prog like Genesis or King Crimson, to extreme metal bands like Mastodon and jazz fusion in the vein of The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Quantum’s music is packed with aggressive dynamic shifts and memorable melodies; music that can shimmer one moment only to explode the next. The material dips into jazz ballad and bursts of metal; it combines with expanded forms from European art music, exhibits flashes of math rock and blends intricate harmonies, all the while maintaining a focus on groove and melody, creating a sound that is quite something else


https://youtu.be/7FADB8XKhHI



The Tragic Company (Spain) Rotten


The Tragic Company hail from southern Spain and recently released a seven-minute long prog-single in the style of Tool, Porcupine Tree or Dream Theater called Rotten, which is to be featured on their forthcoming studio album Paradox (Wild Punk Records.) Guitarist/vocalist and band leader Juanma Medina has shaped their style into a mixture of the best alternative, post-grunge and stoner rock with a prog touch, citing Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Porcupine Tree as influencing their sound. The other band members are Mariano Alcobendas (lead guitar and backing vocals); Alan Voreaux (bass and backing vocals); and Jose Luis Fernández (drums). They have gigged hard to build a solid reputation on the Spanish underground scene over the past few years, with well-crafted songs in English, and put out two studio albums and a live unplugged album


https://youtu.be/0c3jW64hbRs



Seth Angerer (Austria) Not Here to F*ck Spiders



Seth Angerer explains that the title of his latest single Not Here to F*ck Spiders is an Australian phrase which means ‘not here to fuck around’. He regards it as his best produced piece, an anthem decrying hypocrisy, which like his other material is self-written, recorded and produced.

His early EPs were in a prog metal/djent style, influenced by bands like Meshuggah and Haken, but his first long-form opus was 2018’s symphonic album Shinka (Japanese: evolution) in four movements; expansive, dramatic and cinematic music that could have acted as the soundtrack for the creation of the solar system. Not Here to F*ck Spiders is a move away from the symphonic, back firmly into prog metal territory where in addition to his own voice, guest vocalist Pipi Gogerl (Ancient Fragments/Question of Eternity) lends a hand


https://youtu.be/LekQuPQyyT4












By ProgBlog, Apr 3 2016 06:21PM

As I begin to type I’m listening to Seconds Out, bought from Cob Records in Porthmadog during the HRH Prog 4 trip. This is relevant because on the return journey from Wales we (from now on to be referred to as 'The Committee') discussed the provenance of the bands performing at the festival, resolving to come up with either a scientifically derived formula (The Committee, at that stage, was comprised of scientists) or to autocratically pronounce whether a piece of music conformed to our naturally correct definition of progressive rock. Jim later went on to suggest that there could be two lists within the catalogue, so that Genesis would be included as a prog band, but their album Genesis (1983) wouldn’t make the list of progressive rock albums; the first tenet is that post-Hackett Genesis albums are not prog, so I’m listening to the last Genesis prog album.


The problem of hitting upon a comprehensive and logical catalogue has been documented in all books about the genre as well as played out on the letters pages of Prog magazine. Apart from perhaps Math Rock or some JS Bach, music is emotive and emotions are not controlled by logic, so though there can be some convention by which the definition is set, these rules are inherently fluid. There is a degree of agreement between most of the authors of the earliest academic or serious works on the subject, Bill Martin, Edward Macan and Paul Stump but their studies primarily relate to what Martin calls ‘the golden era’ of progressive rock (1968 – 1978), a time when there weren’t so many groups, albums or different genres; the advent of neo-prog in the early-mid 80s but more so the Lazarus-like emergence in the early-mid 90s really complicates the field as divergent influences and a propensity for the music business to come up with ever more labels to package their charges. I don’t believe that the original defining traits of prog can now be applied to exponents of the genre, because alongside virtuoso performances, ‘stretching out’ whether by improvisation or structured development including passages of divergent dynamics to create long-form compositions, the utilisation of technology to produce innovative sounds and the adoption of more thoughtful, often literary or philosophical themes that demanded some form of intellectual engagement with the audience, so called ‘head music’, was the absorption of multiple influences of musical style, central to which was the importance of European art music.

The jettisoning of blues-based American influences and the belief that a form of rock that borrowed from classical music could bridge the divide between high culture and popular culture were catalysts in the formation of progressive rock. Though the title wasn’t applied to music at the time (I called it 'techno-rock', to highlight the importance of the [mostly] keyboard technology and the technical dexterity required to play the music), progressive was an appropriate term because it was a musical form that seemed to actively push at boundaries. Keith Emerson hints at this in the sleeve notes to the proto-prog Five Bridges album and Emerson himself was one of the main bridges between the two schools, writing a piano concerto and continuing to play blues riffs during piano solos.

I think that politics and sociology also played an important part in the formation of the progressive rock movement, where the hippie ideals of the late 60s were carried on by musicians; 70s prog was generally positive, inclusive and questioning, all qualities that constitute a progressive form of politics, and some of the musicians explored what at the time were considered niche interests like vegetarianism. The progressive rock movement was incredibly successful, due in part to the ‘college circuit’ as higher education was opened up to more of the population in the 60s and student unions began to take responsibility for booking acts, bringing groups and their target audience together. When I was applying to universities in the late 70s, I placed considerable importance on the ability of a campus to attract bands though by the time I went to uni punk had come and largely gone.

Some commentators and musicians have suggested that playing the greatest hits from your 70s heyday is not progressive and that to live up to the term there has to be evidence of progression, a continual development. The Committee briefly discussed the use of the terms progressive rock and prog and maybe it’s best to apply the phrase ‘progressive rock’ to the music produced between 1968 and 1978 where there was a genuine direction of progress, strictly encapsulating a particular musical form within a specific time period. This leaves us with ‘prog’ which covers both progressive rock and idioms that used progressive rock as a blueprint: neo-prog and the music produced in the resurgent period from the early 90s to the present day. Prog is able to borrow from more sources, has some remarkable technology both in terms of the instruments and software available for recording, such that file sharing allows musicians to contribute to a recording remotely and their contribution slotted in without ever physically getting together with their collaborators, but while still boasting a healthy number of practitioners with amazing technique, the virtual studio allows less dextrous exponents to shine, ensuring that successful prog is more about concepts than mere execution, otherwise music-making would be reduced to an almost mathematical process devoid of emotion; there is even a new set of socio-political factors from which to choose a grand theme that will allow prog to remain relevant, rather than just looking back to the 70s for inspiration, including burning issues like the continuation of wars, the mass migration of peoples displaced by war, austerity and its flip side, the enrichment of the very few, the impact of globalisation, and the urgency of the need to accept and combat climate change. These concepts could be described under one banner: the Anthropocene era.



It goes without saying that original progressive rock is included under the prog umbrella but it’s the relationship between prog and progressive rock that is critical to the definition of prog; although progressive rock elements appear in other contemporary genres, the degree to which this music conforms to the principles of ‘golden era’ are crucial to whether or not the music is prog. This is where objectivity ends and subjectivity begins, so, with the terminology sorted out, it’s time for The Committee to compile the lists...




By ProgBlog, Sep 13 2015 10:15PM

I was offered, and accepted, a new job this week. There’s a redundant section at the bottom of CVs that appears on resume templates: Activities or Interests. In an effort to ensure that all candidates are treated equally, this paragraph is rightly ignored during the interview process but mine is still there and three of the items I list are ‘progressive rock’, ‘bass guitar’ and ‘architecture’.

This last listing is relatively recent and was put there because my son Daryl did an Architecture degree and I took an interest in his studies. In a curious twist, he blames his parents for setting him down that path; we must have dragged him around every National Trust and English Heritage property in the South East and many more elsewhere. Now, family holidays invariably include seeking out some example of architectural vernacular, some special building or a World Heritage site.

Architecture is one of the most visible displays of wealth. Corporations inhabit huge edifices, the super-rich live in characterless high-rise Thames view apartments and old money resides in country retreats. This is rather ironic because, according to the Architects’ Journal (AJ), architects tend to vote Labour. I think the publication itself reads like The New Statesman; last week’s edition was singing the praises of Jeremy Corbyn!

I’m particularly fond of modernist architecture which, fairly early in the twentieth century, set out in a radical new direction when Auguste Perret (1874 – 1954) began to build structures out of reinforced concrete without any ornamentation. His idea was for the exterior to reflect the inner structure, rather than hiding it, a concept of design integrity that was initially inspired by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Based on the analysis in Music of Yes and Listening to the Future by Professor Bill Martin, I wrote a letter to Prog magazine which was published in issue 24 (March 2012) pointing out the link between progressive rock and socialism, via William Morris.

Brutalism, one of my favoured schools of architecture, has been described as an uncompromisingly modern form of architecture able to generate extreme emotions and heated debate. Characterised by large forms of often asymmetrical proportions, the use of unadorned concrete added to its misplaced reputation for suggesting a bleak, dystopian future. I think this is far from the truth and there are others who agree with me. An item on BBC Breakfast (September 8th) with architect Harriet Harriss and Joe Watson from the National Trust explored this myth; Harriss pointing out the touchy-feely nature of the buildings because of the imprint left on the concrete surfaces by the timber formers and Watson expounding the opinion that this was utopian architecture and that the NT, as an extension of their role, was going to open up these buildings for special tours. Put in context, this was a heroic architecture, with local authorities addressing the requirement for decent housing in the years following the Second World War. The planners and architects were visionaries though it would be foolish to suggest that there weren’t failures. Harriss pointed out that this was cutting-edge and that it did involve some experimentation, because of the acute need for housing; issues regarding damp are now able to be addressed and examples of the idiom preserved. The most interesting point was made by Watson, who commented that architecture indicates where political power lies in our society and illustrated this notion by naming the Church and the aristocracy, which agrees with my earlier point about architecture as a display of wealth. He believes that during the 50s and 60s there was a shift in power to the people through local councils and they responded with this heroic, sublime architecture; the accommodation provided indoor bathroom suites, defined kitchen areas, fully wired and ready for appliances, and central heating, things that tenants couldn’t previously have imagined. Harriss made the point that the National Theatre (by Denys Lasdun, 1914 – 2001) was successful because it fulfilled one of the main aims of this school of architecture, namely ending the exclusivity of the arts and making it far more accessible, opening it up to a new, wide-ranging audience. The external appearance, with its many decks that can be interpreted as a series of performance platforms, reflects the function of the building. The music that accompanied the archive footage was chosen for its dystopian feel: the Blade Runner soundtrack by Vangelis (1982.)

The connection of this form of architecture to prog is precisely the same as Harriss pointing out why the National Theatre is a success; ending the hegemony of the rich over the arts. The seeds of progressive rock emerged during the ‘Massive’ period of Brutalism (defined by Alexander Clement as running from 1960 – 1975) when society was changing rapidly spurred on by technological innovation; the technology behind construction was changing and, in music, instrument design and recording techniques were rapidly developing. Not only did concert halls such as the Royal Festival Hall, part of the same South Bank Complex as the National Theatre and the Barbican Centre (officially opened in 1982 during the Brutalist ‘Transitional’ period) provide culture to a wider range of the population, institutions like the University of East Anglia, a famous Brutalist structure opened in 1963, were attracting a wider social range of students and it was the new Universities and Polytechnics that provided a circuit for touring nascent rock acts which contributed to the success of the genre. My first forays to see bands outside Barrow were at Lancaster University (Barclay James Harvest, 1975; Focus, 1976.)

Prog attempted to take high culture and make it accessible to the masses through the medium of rock music. European art music was critical to the success of proto-progressive acts such as The Nice, the Moody Blues and Procol Harum and these gave rise to symphonic prog bands. This form was initially praised by critics and the budding genre became accepted by some of the more forward thinking institutions; Pink Floyd played the Royal Festival Hall in April 1969 during their experimental The Man and the Journey tour. This relationship with the critics changed when some of the exponents of prog undertook massive projects that were beyond the comprehension of many and led to charges of pretentiousness and overblown self indulgence. This period of prog, the end of the ‘golden era’ coincides with a rejection of Brutalism by planners and the transition to less monumental forms, an increased use of brick and the uninspiring Neo-vernacular. As prog played out councils were reducing investment in their concrete estates, former beacons of hope for a fairer society, and the misplaced idea of the dystopian landscape took hold. It’s good that there has been a re-evaluation of progressive rock and a re-evaluation of this egalitarian architecture.


Post Script:

My local concert hall, Croydon’s Fairfield Halls (opened 1962 and based on the Royal Festival Hall) features some great acoustics and was another favoured haunt of successful prog acts during the early 70s as commuter towns developed and grew.



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