Monday, May 24, 2010
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Monday, January 11, 2010
Rare Bird- As Your Mind Flies By, 1970 I just happened to be listening to this album the other day, along with the self-titled 1969 debut of these gentlemen, and thought to myself- "You know, these are both pretty goddamn good albums". Outside of the incredibly lame sleeve art, "Mind" doesn't have one glaring weakness, and most of it is actually compelling and attention-keeping, no matter how many times you listen. Truly great? Maybe not; but along with bands like Jonesy and Barclay James Harvest and others who have been inexplicably forgotten and lost to the ether of Prog history, The Curator feels that an important mission of the PRHOI is education. And, really, if you give this album a listen and aren't immediately blown away by the energy and forcefulness of the appropriately named "Hammerhead", then in all likelihood there is nothing that can be done to draw you from your Coldplay-listening torpor and pitifully disintegrating life with all its attendant middle-mind hash. Steve Gould provides a tremendously rich voice to the strong musicianship, and while- unfortunately- this is yet another band that should have quit before releasing their last two disastrously moribund albums, the first two are a class act and, yes, I fell pretty comfortable saying worthy of being included on a "Top 50" list- which, with this album now included, is up to 105 albums. This list has turned into the Godley & Creme of Prog Canons, spiralling completely out of control and going far beyond the original scope and idea; but again, it's Prog, and it's also my list, so The Curator can live with his rampant excess.
That being said...I was never comfortable omitting the other two Egg albums (S/T, 1970 and Civil Surface, 1974) so considering the list is now so vast I'd like to correct that since Egg is, after all, one of my favorite bands. Also, there is no sense denying that Univers Zero's first record (1313, 1977) belongs, since I absolutely love them too, and that album is almost as evil as the one that made the original list. It also seems completely ridiculous that Art Zoyd was not represented, even though I much prefer parts of all of their albums as to proclaiming one a transcendent masterpiece; this caveat in mind, I listened to Berlin (1987) the other night when I couldn't sleep, and was so disturbed I had to go pour a glass of wine in order to calm myself down from the creeping disquiet thus engendered; this to me is a sign of a very successful album, and one deserving of mention in such a preposterously ambitious list.
And since we're on the subject of RIO, I'd like to put in a special word for an album I quite frankly forgot about until the other day when I was cleaning out an old hard drive- the Japanese Chamber Rock group Zypressen and their S/T 1996 release, now long since out of print. I have no idea where I got this from (though as always Mutant Sounds seems the likely culprit) but I do know it was during a "RIO-phase" I was indulging in right about the time I had driven another girl out of my life due to excessive weirdness and introversion. All part of the above-mentioned ambition needed to compile a list like this. And for now...let that ambition rest. Whomever has actually stayed in there for all of this constant revising and revisiting with me, I hope you have enjoyed yourself. In the New Year, I promise...it is back to Bad Prog, 100% full time. Enjoy the avalanche of shit. - TKR
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Tangerine Dream- Zeit, 1972 Guest Review by Special PRHOI Correspondent Sean Kelly
It was obvious from the beginning that Tangerine Dream would be unlike any other group from Germany placed in the broad category of "musik kosmische" (cosmic music- a label Edgar Froese claims to have invented, and liberally used by the Ohr and Brain labels).
The original lineup of guitarist/synth Froese, bass/cello/synth of Conrad Schnitzler, and drummer/synth master Klaus Schulze produced one of the most disturbingly heady and glorious psychedelic lps of all time in "Electronic Meditation," and their 2nd offering, the vastly underrated "Alpha Centuari," reinforced the notion of the group as a cosmic juggernaut.
In reality, Froese was moving beyond those labels. His fascination with synthesizers (Moogs, Mellotrons and VCS3's) was beginning to dominate his musical modes of thinking, and the personnel changes within the band reflected this. Schulze and Schnitzler were long gone by this point, and Christophe Franke and Hans-Peter Baumann were in. These men would be the core of T. Dream for many years to come and raise the group to UNFATHOMABLE heights of popularity with "Phaedra" and beyond...
"Zeit" is the German word for time, and this proves misleading for this lp, for time is an irrlelvant bystander from the word go. Indeed, the nebulous flow on this lp could be likened to the unpredictable flow of a lava lamp, with pulsating flows- such as Steve Schroyder's glorious organ coda on "Birth of Liquid Plejades"... (Schroyder's contributions to TD are more readily heard on "Alpha Centauri") and remarkable ebbs, such as Froese's barely audible guitar opening on "Origin of Supernatural Probabilities". In total, the lp may come across to many as a boring experimentation, but in my view, to think that way is limiting.
What makes this lp work is the wonderful use of SPACE (in the musical text, not a cosmic text). Space, with silence, are the 2 most important and overlooked modes in music. Both open up amazing avenues of possibility, and that is why "Zeit" works- the possibilities that it presents to the listener.
The music is a perfect score to it- controlled, reserved, spacious, largo. Even the most "busy" of solos (Florian Fricke from Popol Vuh's eeire moog solo in "Birth.." could well qualify) is spacious and well calculated, allowing for the illusion of space (in the cosmic text).
Fans of ambient or illbient music will find "Zeit" to be an eye-opener, as "Zeit" could be argued as one of the 1st true ambient excursions (along with the aforementioned Fricke's masterpiece debut lp for Popol Vuh- "Affenstunde", which I also feel should be in the all time greatest list).
Fans of synth music will marvel in the expert use of the Moog, Mellotrons, and synths (all 3 of which were still somewhat primitive and sparingly used in 1972, the Moog in particular). Most fans of the Tangs' recent output (no less Froese's son, Jerome, who calls it his least favorite TD lp.. Jerome, shut up- the buffet table is over there somewhere, you fat fuck.) will likely not understand "Zeit" off the top, but fear not! Take on "Zeit" and all of its amazing possibilities, and bask in its astounding glory.
One of the most important lps of German synth music, "Zeit" still stands the test of time well in 2009, and is a cornerstone for ambient music. How much do I love this lp? simple. In a collection that spans over 30 thousand albums, cd's, 45's, 78's, reel to reels, acetates, etc-
"Zeit" is the ONLY ONE I own on lp, and also have CD copies of right now at home, in my car, at work, and at my dad's home in North Carolina.
(ED. Note- The following is NOT by Sean Kelly, as he may be highly upset if he thinks The Curator is trying to pass this one off on him. Nope; this is from TKR...with stoic courage in anticipation of all the shit-storm of threats and denunciations sure to follow)
Emerson Lake & Palmer- S/T, 1970
After extensive thought- and several listens on long, lugubrious and solemn walks with the IPod realizing what this will do to The Curator's legacy- I have decided, nonetheless, to acknowledge that, yes, the first ELP album is pretty fucking great and largely devoid of the preposterous level of bombast and annoyance which makes ELP, with great ease mind you, the greatest waste of talent in the history of music, and quite possibly rivaling uber-pompous and wildly unreadable James Joyce for the all-time championship of said wasted talent sweepstakes. This isn't like Schoenberg abandoning high Romanticism to wallow and indulge in the inscrutable obscurantism of his twelve-tone fixation; ELP continued to make rock music, of a kind, only they did so in a way that takes tepid boredom and crushing ennui to unfathomable levels of insipidity and rage-inducing torpor. Make no mistake: no collection of recordings short of the mass of filth vomited upon the Progressive Rock world by Dream Theater is more likely to render one a bug-eating derelict if listened to in its entirety than the preposterous load of navel-gazing scheisse committed in the name of "Art" by Msrs. Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
But we're not talking about Tarkus or- ha ha- In The Hot Seat here. ELP displayed all of their most brazen indulgences, all right- "The Three Fates" starts with a Bach-style toccata and later embraces nothing less than a full-on grand piano rondo in the style of (of course) Tchaikovsky- but for some reason all of this works quite well for them here. The reason, I think, is that there must have been at least some controls placed on these three massive egos, and so in the numerous parts of the album where Emerson is clearly the dominant voice, there isn't any of the messy mix-jockeying that plagued the band, much like Yes, for the remainder of their career. Indeed, the only sour note hit on the entire album- an ominous one, however, for all of the futile masturbatory shenanigans to follow throughout the 70's, culminating in the wretched circus of Keith Emerson strapped into a flying grand piano like a particularly quarrelsome and diminutive chimpanzee flinging its poo with shouts of "Look at Me!" to the assembled concert goers- is the band's most famous number, the album closer "Lucky Man". It's actually quite a nice song, to be honest; but at the very end, and for seemingly absolutely no reason, a synthesized Moog solo breaks out totally at odds with everything the listener had just heard. Why all this sudden urge to muck up a perfectly good melancholy ballad? The story I've always heard (and I believe it) is that there just happened to be an early Moog lying about in a studio, and Keith was so smitten by the thing he insisted on tacking on the world's first synthesizer solo to the aforementioned track- and thereby paving the way for such madness as Van Halen's slide to infamy, the "bad" era of Genesis where Tony Banks similarly noodled about in a cloying fashion on the ersatz-sounding keys, and the ultimate horror of a band even as great as Kraftwerk stooping to such dreck as The Mix album. All of this because Keith Emerson is short and his daddy didn't love him; or whatever it was. Either way, he had to be first, and this pointless addenda to the one "single" on the entire album let the discernible listener know where this band was headed: along with Symphonic Prog denizens Yes- how fitting- to "The Gates of Delirium". And to this day Prog remains the most misunderstood and hated music genre in musical history, more reviled than Zydeco and less acknowledged than traditional West Virginian mountain-dancing prattle.
Still, ELP is a great album, and there's no sense denying it simply due to a silly grudge on the part of The Curator. For everything else? Nah, fuck those guys; some things are not forgivable, and Love Beach is one of them. - TKR
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Part II- For your argumentation and delectation, see Part I (below) for any and all explanatory notes needed for methodology and apologies (none, in both cases). - TKR
Weidorje- S/T 1978 The ultimate one-and-done; one of Vander’s mercilessly indoctrinated Zeuhl-school cultists, taught by the master and then turned loose on a world both unfit for such genius but deserving all the punishing mayhem therein all the same. The most pure-Zeuhl of any non-Magma I’m aware of (and I am a serious student of the school), Weidorje produced an album of such severity and lack of compromise that it must be at least considered that this is the very greatest Zeuhl album of all. Certainly, it is a legend; the musicianship of “Booldemug”, the original vinyl’s closer, is so frenetic, outlandish and completely remorseless that listening to the track becomes a physically exhausting event; starting innocently enough with a lovely fugue from genius keyboardist Patrick Gauthier, absolute madness soon breaks out as Bernard Pagnotti’s bass and Kirt Rust’s drums seem to be in competition for driving their listeners to acts of grievous self-mutilation and abuse. Oh, and the album’s story line is about a giant UFO arriving to take away all good Zeuhl-heads to a new world with new values and complete safety; man, if that’s not Prog, I’ll kiss your ass.
Soft Machine- One (1968), Volume Two (1969) and Third (1970) Right then, I’m just supposed to pick one of these albums for a putative list of the greatest Prog albums ever made. What absolute silliness; I’m not a tireless defender of the Machine, in that even with my love for these records I freely admit that missteps were taken along the way and the idea of this band without Robert Wyatt is pretty much like the idea of Hell without the Devil; like, where’s the guy in charge, man? But the first two records are of such pure Psychedelic perfection that the third really does end all debate about Wyatt’s importance to Canterbury, and his overall remorseless genius. “Out-Bloody-Rageous” is the best long-form Canterbury track ever recorded, and let me go on record now as proclaiming Ratledge’s organ sound as the best and most pure of an era that was ankle-deep in genius Hammond and electric piano players. These are three of my absolute favorite records ever, and if the Soft Machine isn’t in the “real” rock n’ roll Hall of Fame then it’s nothing but a sick fucking joke, and I think we should just ignore the new “Mistake by the Lake” and make the PRHOI the PEOPLE’S HOF!!!
Igra Staklenih Perli- S/T (1979), Soft Explosion Live (1991) and Drives (1993) We talked about Croatia yesterday, now let’s acknowledge the contributions of Serbia’s best Prog band, the startlingly sinister Psych sounds of ISP (“The Glass Bead” game, in English, from Hesse’s novel). Let me first start by saying this: this is one of my favorite bands ever. Thanks to the genius who runs the Orexis of Death blog, I found these records a while ago and decided, “What the hell- Yugo Drug music. Who knew.” I then downloaded the records and left my body for a while. Heavily in debt to Saucerful-era Floyd, but also KC circa Red (“Pecurka” which means- are you ready for this?- “mushroom”, ha ha ha) ISP goes trance-deep into grooves dense as super-massive black holes and especially on the last named album, above, segues into near-nodding-head Psychedelic prostration; this is some fucking groovy shit, man. This music is so fucking trippy that if you’re making sweet love to your lady while listening to one of these albums, you will ejaculate pixie dust and she’ll give birth to Pan; which is fine by me, as if you’ve seen “Alucarda” (one of my favorite movies) you know Pan is fucking BAD-ASS and gets all the just-past-juvenile Latina convent hotties to sell him their soul and...other things. So now I’ve just got to find a girl who can tolerate ISP for more than five minutes and I’ve got all my problems licked; not bloody likely, as ISP is not only drug-crazed, but quite clearly lecherous in intent as well. Absolutely fucking mandatory for Space Freaks of all kinds everywhere, and an excellent addition to any Timothy Leary “starter kit” for young people interested in becoming heavily involved with drugs.
Buon Vecchio Charlie- S/T 1972 If somebody ever drew up a list of every Prog band that made use of Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King” at some point in their work, the list would, like a line of all the Chinese marched into the sea, never end. I don’t think any of them ever made better use of the motif, however, than this Jazzy-Psychedelic bunch from Italy who made one album and split- I don’t even know what ever became of the group members once this ephemeral, but brilliant, outfit decided they weren’t going anywhere with the concept. Excellent guitar-heavy Jazzrock that might remind you at times of Ian Carr’s Nucleus, except with a virtuoso flautist. Which reminds me...
Nucleus, We’ll Talk About It Later, 1970 More a Jazz record than a “rock” one, Ian Carr collected some startlingly talented musicians and then proceeded to confound everyone by changing the name of his band on virtually every record they made. Jazzrock is- sometimes with justification- viciously reviled by otherwise calm and orderly people who would never think of eating meat or swatting a fly, but wouldn’t hesitate to put a knife in the back of someone who dared play a Spyro Gyra record or start a conversation with “Hey, don’t you think Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters is great?” The Curator tries not to defend open manifestations of violence, but can allow that sometimes, as Donald Rumsfeld would say, “Stuff happens”. He only asks that, before you go burying that blade in your neighbor’s lower lumbar, consider than not all Jazzrock is the same, and that in the case of Nucleus, it is actually some pretty heavy shit. There is no excuse for the vast majority of their sleeve art, however; Alley Cat may be the most scintillating record ever made, but I’ll never know, because the cover is so fucking cornball I wouldn’t even consider listening to it. The Curator has a “rep”, baby, and guards it like the key to his enigmatic and misanthropic heart.
Pulsar- The Strands of the Future (1976) and Halloween (1977) France was overrun with genius in the 70’s, and in every conceivable direction Progressive Rock could take: Zeuhl (Magma), RIO (Art Zoyd), Avant-Garde nuttiness (Mosaic, Igor Wakhevitch) Jazz Fusion (Ange, Atoll) and then this bunch, with their ghostly, haunting, restrained and perfectly on-pitch Space Psych. These were outstanding productions; Strands is simply a gorgeous album, and while the CD can’t get every nuance of the vinyl (RE-MASTER, PLEASE!!!) this is still some of the greatest headphones-music ever made. It’s also nice to know that there were drugs in France too, as these two brilliant albums were clearly fueled by copious amounts of magician’s elixirs; and an extra note of praise for Gilbert Gandil’s absolutely gorgeous white double-neck SG (and matching white suit!), used to such great effect on his very subtle and classy guitar work. Two of my absolute most favorite albums of all time; epic and beautiful Space Rock.
Gnidrolog- ...in Spite of Harry’s Toenail (1971) and Lady Lake (1972) Exhibit “A” as to why the demise of the record label age should not me mourned for even so much as a second. From what I’ve read, this band was so hopelessly mismanaged and ill-marketed that even after critics were going bonkers over this completely original brand of totally unclassifiable Prog, there were still not any albums being shipped to help the band actually get bought, played and paid. A horrible waste of what are two tremendous- and I cannot stress this enough- unique albums; you know who sounded like Gnidrolog? Gnidrolog. That’s it. Like Comus, all attempts to compare the Goldring brothers to anything else going on in this remarkably fruitful time are pointless without actually sitting down and listening to the records; which The Curator strongly encourages you to do. Lake is generally considered their definitive artistic statement, but I still think Toenail is the better album, mainly because “Snails” is one of the most pensive and morbidly discordant uses of the normally-way-too-happy instrument known as the flute I’ve ever heard; deserves to be remembered as one of the truly great albums of the Progressive Rock era.
Jannick Top- Soleil D’Ork, 2001 God I love Zeuhl. You know why? It keeps people away from you. “Music of the Spheres” is one of the greatest pieces of music I’ve ever heard in my life; terrifyingly austere, numbingly repetitive, Top’s vision of the Universe and what might be in it is decidedly darker than Paganotti’s happy little UFO coming to take us to a blissful rendezvous beyond the stars. M. Top seemed more obsessed with the “repetition” aspect of Master Vander’s teachings, and if you’re waiting for a “hook” or a catchy chorus of some kind in this misanthropic masterwork, you might as well pitch a tent and wait for Weidorje’s spaceship to arrive. Anyway, for all its genius, “Spheres” is the kind of thing that keeps the middle-mind away, makes cats hide under tables, and ensures isolation and purity of thought far, far removed from the obnoxious masses who let a little thing like outright Fascist inter-stellar nihil-jazz upset them; it’s only an album, right? And Top’s space aliens probably aren’t real...though if they are, ha ha, man are we fucked...
Algarnas Tradgard- Framtiden ar ett Svavande Skepp, Forankrat I Forntiden, 1972 Let’s talk about weird music for a second, friends. We all like a little weirdness every now and then and I’m sure we all agree sometimes certain people try a little too hard to be weird and end up sounding...well, like poseurs. I can’t imagine anyone saying this about Algarnas Tradgard, one of the strangest and most defiantly individualistic bands of the classic era. This is really their only “proper” album, since the title of the follow-up- Delayed- says it all: the album was shelved for almost 30 years due to a variety of brilliant business decisions by the Philistines who had control over this iconoclastic Swedish outfit’s work. But the reputation AT gained with Framtiden is one well-deserved; kind of a cross between Norse Folk music, Odin Prog with a tendency to Krautrock and- believe it or not- Medieval polyphony and something akin to Chaucer Jazz, and you get a very rough idea of what the album sounds like. An even better way is to find it yourself and give a listen; this is what The Curator will, again, highly recommend, as this is a truly unique and fan-fucking-tastically different album.
Grobschnitt- Solar Music Live, 1978 The spirit of parody and good humor- along with some very, very German-specific jokes- turns a lot of people off to this record. That is too bad, because this is without a doubt the greatest live album ever recorded, and probably the best sustained guitar solo ever attempted. I mean, essentially, that’s all the album is; a 57-minute guitar solo which amounts to a meta-fake book for the instrument and allows Kuhn and Danielak to indulge every hook, groove, chord or masturbatory impulse they had ever had since picking the instrument up. An exhausting and exhilarating space trip to the limits of improvisation and hard rock.
Arbete Och Fritid- S/T, 1973 Another obscure gem liberated from the Prog potash-pile by the good folks at Mutant Sounds, this is one of the strangest and most hallucinatory Prog Folk albums ever recorded. There is something very special about the Swedish language when sung; it might not appeal to everyone, but it is uniquely melancholy and fount of a thousand sorrows in each syllable; surely this has never been more the case than on this uncanny, beautiful Baroque-and-Roll record filled with dirges, strange instruments, curious phrasing and Druid-like clarion calls to the ingestion of massive amounts of drugs. The closing track (“Ostpusten-Vastpusten”, which I believe are types of psilocybin mushrooms which grow in Swedish forests) is an epic of Psych-Folk and will make you burn all of those silly Bob Dylan records you own once and the fuck for all. A spectacular ur-RIO record unlike anything else I’ve ever heard.
Nya Ljudbolaget- S/T 1980 The Curator doesn’t know much about this record because it’s sung in Swedish and is very, very weird- and the band did this one-shot and then vanished. Like the album named above, it is largely a futile operation to “adjective” an album like this into comprehensibility, much better to listen to the thing and decide for yourself if obscure Norse instruments and dialects and Medieval-sounding polyrhythms are your thing. They are for me, and this album makes a marvelous Nordic counterpoint to the more bucolic and Arcadian Prog Folks sounds of Latin Civilization descendents, like Malicorne (q.v.) A real treat of avant-Prog experimentation.
Jonesy- Growing, 1973 Gains a nod from The Curator because of the relentless energy of the opening number (“Can You Get Than Together”, an anthem of loose-living, Priest-cursing, distemperate aestheticism and libidinal womanizing- surely written in anticipation of your current writer’s ideal state of affairs in life) and the fact that the synthesized trumpet is an idea sadly unexplored in Prog, or Jazz for that matter- except here. Alan Brown can really blow, and while it is a bit of a stretch to say this is one of the “best” Prog albums ever recorded, you will enjoy this album if you’ve never heard it, and part of the mission here at the PRHOI is, of course, to educate.
Wishbone Ash- Argus, 1972 Absolutely some of the sweetest harmonies and acoustic fretting you’ll ever hear (yes, The Curator is capable of “kicking back”, as the young people say, every so often) which then seamlessly flow into superb dual-guitar work of perfect syncopation and rhythm. A really, really enjoyable album for anyone who admires the beauty of open-channel guitar and dense, hook-friendly craftsmanship in songwriting. And Steve Upton is a wonderfully inventive drummer, if you give Argus a closer listen. One of my favorite albums ever that doesn’t involve space aliens, deliberately provocative time signatures or explicit calls to drug use; a true classic.
Van der Graaf Generator- H to He, Who Am The Only One (1970) and Pawn Hearts (1971) Well, now we’re getting down to brass tacks as they say, aren’t we? I must say first off that while I love the VdGG to distraction, the promise of these first two albums is so absolutely overwhelming that later efforts may make this band one of the great disappointments in the history of Prog. I mean, ELP will forever hold the crown for squandered talent, but for Christ’s sakes sitting thru Pawn Hearts in one continuous listen is one of the most overwhelming musical experiences a person can have. As my collaborator here at the PRHOI has observed, “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” is “as dense as any Nietzschean text”, and as a longtime worshipper of the last Western thinker who truly mattered before me, I understand completely what MM means. Go ahead, listen to either of these records and find a weak spot; it’s like probing Hell for Sympathy or Heaven for Thought. A complete waste of time and thieving you away from the crushing sensual immersion things like “Man Erg” supply in deft severity. So overwhelming are both albums- although for me the latter is clearly one of the great events in the cultural life of Europe- that those later efforts everyone seems to love so much (All Music has Pleasure Dome as- by far- the band’s highest-rated album, which is so ridiculous as to not even be worth the spittle of my sneer) really make one risible in moments of unsentimental reflection. It’s only that I’ve been so soul-deep in Prog for the last few days that now, as I begin to unravel from so much beauty and so much pain, that I even shudder to consider where certain bands could have gone had they only kept that spark of perfect creation alive in them for just a blessed and uninterrupted decade; this is all I ask. H to He and Pawn are perfect records, both of them, but goddammit Peter Hammil...there was no excuse for Godbluff, now was there???
Malicorne- Almanach, 1976 Beautiful Medieval Folk crossed with modern song structures, all sung in a haunting Provencal French by one of the most skillful acoustic guitarists of an era that reveled in traditional sounds and unplugged virtuosos. Marie Yacoub’s vocals are serene, clear and powerful, a perfect compliment to her husband’s leads and creating an effect that is almost capable of calming The Curator; no mean feat, friends.
Gentle Giant- Acquiring The Taste (1971), Octopus (1972) and In A Glass House (1973) Three perfect and well-known albums that emphasize voice in a way that can only be called revelatory; GG actually cracked the charts with Octopus, according to my co-curator Mr. Moses, which tells us a lot about where this civilization has descended to in the last 35 years of “rap”, pap and irredeemable shite. Ferociously complex music that only becomes accessible on the third or fourth listen, all three of these records are mandatory documents for serious students of the Classic Prog era.
Mike Oldfield- Tubular Bells, 1973 The one man gang himself, Oldfield’s masterpiece of engineering, production and sound is perhaps unfairly maligned due to its association with “The Exorcist”, though it would be profoundly foolish to dismiss this as “movie music”. Epic, moody, heavy and restrained, Bells is one of the few “mainstream” Prog albums that actually deserves its legend and superlatives. A startling work of art that is completely hypnotic, and completely removed from the Oldfield’s later, disastrously gay “New Age” flotsam.
Quiet Sun- Mainstream, 1975 Another album that is brilliant from its sleeve art and all throughout the production, this somewhat-obscure Canterbury gem fields an all-star team of English jazz-rock musicians and allows them to just let it all hang out. Apparently this was supposed to be an ongoing project; sadly, Quiet Sun packed it in after one record, and the members (particularly Phil Manzanera) went on to some rather spotty work in the years that followed. This, however, is a masterpiece and I would say required listening for Prog-o-files of any inclination.
Elektriktus- Electronic Mind Waves, 1976 Goodness, I wonder if this is one of those awful “drug” records? You would be correct in assuming this, reader; a one-off of exceptional rarity (so obscure not even Spacefreak seems to know much about these guys), this is also a superbly hypnotic Electronic composition that is about as Kosmiche as you can get; my version was ripped straight from vinyl, and has 30+ years of awesome bacon-frying static that only makes the proceedings more trippy and dark. Why nobody makes music like this anymore baffles me, but thanks to the Internets there is plenty of the vintage stuff available, and this Italian rarity is one of the best examples of the type you will find.
Ralph Lundsten- Inspiration Sweden, 1972 The insane Swede- most famous for writing the music for the greatest of all rape-revenge movies, “Thriller”, and for living in a massive pink Victorian mansion in his homeland- here with his most abstract and hypnotic work, about as far as I can go with “music” that is almost not music anymore. Definitely for late nights home alone (not that I would know much about those) and surely not in any way to be confused with “dance” music, this is Lundsten’s best series of compositions and de rigueur for those wanting to truly explore the abstract paradise that was the early 70’s in Scandinavia.
Genesis- Nursery Cryme (1971), Foxtrot (1972), Selling England By The Pound (1973) and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (1974) Anybody conceivably reading this will know plenty about these four records; if you don’t, then you’re probably one of those Marillion-Dream Theater type “Prog” fans and I don’t want you reading this blog anyway, because I don’t want your fucking Neo-Prog AIDS getting all over my page. So scram, you insalubrious pissants. Now, for the rest of you, I merely ask: has any band, in any genre, during any age, EVER had a more fantastically productive four year run than the Gabriel-fronted Genesis in the early 70’s? An absolutely staggering body of work; Prog’s most endearing number (“I Know What I Like”), the best song ever written about a malevolent (and quite horny) jack-in-the-box (“The Musical Box”), a complete novel (Lamb) and a fucking APOCALYPSE (“Supper’s Ready”, the greatest moment in the history of Prog coming in at “9/8”) thrown in for good measure. Who was the greatest? Gabriel or Hammil? Does it matter? As my co-curator has observed elsewhere, one was Dionysus, the other Apollo; both are gods, and both were part of something that we’ll never, ever see the likes of again. The early 70’s in England were rock n’ roll’s finest hour, and these four amazing records form a central part of that genius. Absolutely, unquestionably essential.
Scott Walker- Tilt, 1995 But is it Prog, you ask? Probably not; this is more of an “avant-garde” record, whatever that means these days, but it’s also so perfect and moving that I just absolutely had to find a way to get it on the list. Oh, The Curator had a heart at one point, friends; before several run-ins with Kali-like goddesses of pure destruction who rendered me incapable of sympathy for anything outside of domestic animals and alcohol, I lived, I laughed, and- yes- The Curator loved. Those days are blessedly behind, and that is why listening to Scott Walker is such a very personal experience for me. Featuring one of the finest vocal performances ever captured (“Farmer In the City”) and many other appallingly painful moments, this is one of my favorite albums and you are heartily encouraged to listen to it and wallow in pain and loss for everything you ever loved that dare not love you.
Kraftwerk- Radio-Aktivitat (1975), Trans-Europa Express (1977) and Die Mensch-Maschine (1978) There’s nothing even my unmitigated genius is going to be able to say about these records that hasn’t been said a million times by the kind of blowhards who write for middle-mind entertainment magazines and buy famous directors slices of pizza (and then brag about it for years in between bellowing bouts of alcoholic stupor and falling off of barstools with a thud reminiscent of a wooly mammoth in its death-throes). So I really can only do one thing, and that is defend my inclusion of the first album on the list; everybody else gets to be all artsy and avant-garde, but when Kraftwerk does it it’s not ok? Fuck that shit; RA is a radical record of noise, metronomic hallucination and claustrophobic deep-chill distance. The only really misanthropic record “The Robots” ever made, and an album I’ve been listening to for many years; plus, I have great memories of pissing people off in coffee shops back in the days of cheap headphones that let half of the sound out to the general public. The “tweeting” part of RA, especially, has had people ready to throw punches my way, and, for me, it’s not been a complete day unless I’ve made at least one person hate me. Good times.
Ash Ra Tempel- First, 1971 A little different for Kosmische-Kraut, this is a guitar-heavy magnum opus of pure lysergic frenzy. Ash Ra here demands to be listened to on a beanbag chair in total darkness with something of an opiate or opiate-derivative on hand for cosmic “guidance”; as seriously spaced out and feedback-laced as anything Zeppelin did, this puts to bed any lingering notion that Germans can only mellow-out when they’re stoned. A fucking wall-to-wall trip of a record and highly, highly recommended by The Curator.
Gracious- !, 1970 If you know these guys at all it is probably due to Andy Votel’s rather impressive “Vertigo Mixed”, which he put together in 2005 in order to show off that he had an amazing record collection, and also that he was a complete asshole who was ashamed to be English and a bit too “world” friendly, if you ask me. Prog is, and always has been, the white man’s burden, and while I appreciate Votel’s efforts to (ha ha) remove it from the nerd-ghetto the music has wallowed in for 40 years, let’s not kid ourselves here- Barris Manco and some of those bands from South America were interesting, and there were a handful of Japanese bands who got the “formula” down pretty well, but...England, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, a couple bands from behind the Iron Curtain and (if you insist) Italy are all you really need to know about Prog and anyone who says otherwise is probably just afraid of being called a “racist” for not listening to something really fucking boring and lame from the second stage on the WARPED tour- but “diverse”, which is all that really matters. The Curator does not value “diversity” in the Arts; he values talent. All other considerations are extraneous and born of a pusillanimous demeanor fit for slaves.
That being said, this is a good record. Like Jonesy, it is a bit of stretch to put them on this list, but the high moments of Gracious are so enjoyable that if you miss out on them then I’m not doing my job to keep the glorious “Prog Rainbow” flying in its multitude of colors. Keep the dream alive and listen to some Gracious this week, you’ll enjoy them.
Cluster- Zuckerzeit, 1974 Along with Neu!, authors of some of the best metronomic Electro-Kraut of the era. More precise and closer in spirit to Kraftwerk than the free-ranging smelly hippies of the Faust/Can scene, this is an awesome record to listen to while reading Heidegger or gliding on people-movers through the impersonal and anodyne domed-enclaves in the coming dystopia that will be the Corporate States of America, Lld. Cold, clinical and without a doubt brilliant nihil-Kraut negative-excess.
Achim Reichel & Machines- Die Grune Reise, 1971 Hello my German hippie friends! One of the best pure-guitar expeditions to the center of the brain from the incredibly hashish-smoked Kraut scene of the early 70’s, this entire album is essentially Herr Reichel, some dude to drive into town and get more drugs (the “Machines”), a wall of primitive echo effects and an amazingly competent sound engineer who blends it all together seamlessly and with perfect insouciance. One of the greatest achievements in the history of Psych guitar and an album that never loses its charm.
Aunt Mary- Janus, 1973 More Scandinavian excellence from a band that moved effortlessly between super-heavy Odin Prog and the Beatles-influenced Psych-Pop that appears on this tremendously enjoyable record. I’m not sure I can say that Janus is one of my “absolute most favorite records ever”, but it certainly is exactly what I want to hear every time I play it. I will say this- “Stumblin’ Stone” is one of my favorite songs of the entire era, and you should check it out just for that. Great harmonies reminiscent of Day Of Phoenix and other Copenhagen-scene bands, this is one of the best records to ever come out of Sweden.
November- 2: a November, 1971 More Swedes and another record I’m sure some will insist doesn’t belong on a list of “Prog” records; too bad, it’s my list and these guys are clever enough to qualify as “Progressive” with their songwriting and superb melancholy vocals. Outstanding hard rock and the best album from a band who quietly carved out a remarkable catalogue of albums without ever raising a peep in the States.
Neu!- S/T, 1972 Stupefyingly dense Krautrock which goes from a happy excursion with the wandervogel (“Hallogallo”) to the pure mechanical terror of the panzerwaffe driving an iron-tipped lance into the heat of the Ardennes (“Negativland”). A near-perfect record and one I have still never managed to successfully talk a girl into having sex while listening to; a pity, as my panzer could use some waffing right about now.
Caravan- If I Could Do It All Again, I’d Do It Over You (1970) and In The Land of Grey And Pink (1971) A lot of these bands fell apart in rather sad ways later, but in the classic Canterbury years of 1968 to 1973, there were more good albums made by more clever bands using more whimsical notions and more ironically-tinged lyrics than in the entire rest of musical history up ‘till that point. Caravan made two of those records, and to be honest all five of their first records could have made this list if I wasn’t deeply anxious of the fact that my original project of collecting the Top 25 Prog albums has since become the Top 50 and those Top 50 are soon to be goddamn near 100. The madness has to stop! The Curator spent 10 hours behind this Mac yesterday, and about 12 today; and long, long, long ago ran out of adjectives and superlatives from his absolutely vast store of pompous verbiage. I thought it was tough finding new and ever more inventive ways of saying that something “sucked”; finding ways to say something is “brilliant” is perhaps even tougher. Oh well, Caravan is brilliant, and as far as the mellower sound of Canterbury goes, they are probably tops.
Hatfield And The North- S/T (1973) and The Rotter’s Club (1975) How shitty is Camel, friends of Prog? Even Richard Sinclair couldn’t help them. This is saying something, because one of Canterbury’s MVP’s made his mark first with Caravan and then this short-lived outfit, who made two albums that were both essentially perfect and then went back to the other 100 projects each of them were involved in at the time. The Curator has said before that Canterbury may be his favorite variant of Prog, and while this may shock those readers who had him pegged as a closet-Fascist Zeuhl demon, just consider how many fucking GREAT records this incestuous gaggle of British musicians managed to make in just about five years. It’s fucking incredible; this list alone is clogged with Jazzrock, which may annoy some people, but if you actually sit down and relax and listen to this stuff I can’t understand how if you think the Beatles were complex and rewarded “deep” listens, then how could you not immediately become obsessed with the stunning genius that aggregated around the Canterbury Scene in the years 1968-73, plus or minus a year or two if you count the Wilde Flowers and allow for records like The Rotter’s Club- which The Curator thinks you should at least consider. Very contemplative and sometimes melancholy music from an incredibly talented group of performers who produced some of the most complex vocal harmonies of the rock era.
Atoll- L’Araignee-Mal, 1975 I put a track from this record on a compilation I had prepared for a girl I was trying to impress once- the utterly demonic “Le Photographe Exorciste”- and she responded by saying that this was clearly an attempt at “dipping my pigtails in the inkwell”, which, while a colorful illustration, makes clear the insuperable hazards of trying to “date” while “loving Prog”. Oh well, I’ll always have France; and let’s close this list with a final entry from the Hexagon, and what is probably the best Fusion album to come from that maniacally creative scene. A total classic, and, yes- totally pigtail-dippin’ fun.
Addenda (12/25-12/26): No list of this kind can ever be perfect. Or truly complete. That being said, there were some, uhmmm...rather glaring omissions commited by your Curator in compiling what he wanted to be the definitive "serious" classic Progressive Rock album list. So, having had a few days to field complaints and think things over, here are a few more gems that I think need to be on any list of truly great Prog records. - TKR
Spirogyra- St. Radigunds, 1971 The omission that started a torment of soul-searching for The Curator. Not only one of the best Prog Folk albums of the era, but one of the great albums recorded in England between the years 1967 and 1974 period. (Note: Those years were not just pulled out of my ass, either; those are the prime years of the greatest explosion of creativity and talent in the history of the Rock era, and specifically in, about, and around the United Kingdom. Please, someone inform Andy Votel of this iron-clad fucking FACT of history. Thank you.) An amazing record of violent imagery and equally belligerent lyrical stylizing; Martin Cockerham had a growl and a sneer in his voice so menacing that the only thing I could think to compare him to is Roger Wootton; and of course, his band has been compared to Spirogyra in many, many ways- though it's important to note that both of these groups were pretty much out there on their own, and determined to prove that you don't need a wall of synthesizers to be "different". I have no way of knowing anything about this, but I can't help but think of the novels and stories of the Welshman James Hanley (see esp. "The Last Voyage" and "Greaser Anderson") when listening to St. Radigands; there is a torrent of working-class silent desperation pouring through Cockerham's brutal tongue- and more than a little preview of John Lydon's histrionics of near-a-decade later. The lyrics of "Captain's Log" are some of the most bitter ever commited to vinyl, and if the production sometimes swells a bit much and tends to distract from the purity of the acoustic musicianship, remember, this is what makes the proceedings truly Progressive; an epic of Impressionistic Prog Folk, a style virtually all to the own of Spirogyra's three studio albums, this is a total fucking classic moody and melancholy trip, and perfect for nights at home alone with wine, thoughts of regret and a gun.
Mittelwinternacht '71- S/T, 1971 A real Kosmiche Mystery Record!!! Suppsoedly recorded in one long Winter night somewhere in Germany by the mysterious "Edward Fraser" and "Christopher French", a suspicious German-speaking reader over at the magnificent Mutant Sounds blog noted a certain Angli-cizing of the names "Edgar Froese" and "Christopher Franke" and declared the record a "Kraut-Hoax"! Well, authentic or not, this is one of the best bouts of pure Space noise you will ever hear, though newcomers to Electronic music should really perhaps refrain from this monstrously vague and labyrinthine work; to call this "music" in a conventional sense is very misleading, and it's really best to remember that sometimes Prog entreats the serious listener to leave their bodies for a while and simply embrace the grand drugged ether that is the Kosmiche; this is one of those records. But for serious Tangerine Dream or Popol Vuh heads, you have here a masterpiece, and one of the more genuinely spooky albums ever made.
Moving Gelatine Plates- The World of Genius Hans, 1972 PRHOI reader Mike Hargis wrote in with some very complimentary remarks about the scale and scope of this list, and a gentle chiding for somehow forgetting to include this excellent French Canterbury record. Indeed, there is no defense for such an omission; I was investigating the French RIO scene a while back, and somehow these guys were worked into that madness. Certainyl there may be moments of RIO-ish mayhem on this excellent record, but this sounds like pure Canterbury to me, with lots of over-fuzzed bass and crazy wah guitar and all those Jazz-like time signature shifts that make 4/4 time Rock fans despise this and other kinds of intelligent and well-crafted music. I'd say this is almost mandatory, expecially considering how the non-English Canterbury groups get overlooked, even by specialists in the field. A horrible mistake on my part now thankfully corrected; this is a really charming record, and I am sure you will enjoy it. Thank you to the reader for his reminder.
Supersister- Present From Nancy (1970) and To The Highest Bidder (1971) Sure, the charges of being "derivative" can be applied with force and justice to this Dutch Canterbury Scene group, but they did such a great job of getting the motifs down and grooving things out ("Energy") the fact that the singer sounds just like Richard Sinclair doesn't really bother me that much. "No Tree Will Grow" sounds like the cradle of every Radiohead ballad every written and is genuinely beautiful; lots of people hate this band, but I've also heard there are those cruel and hopelessly-marooned-from-humanity kind-of souls who hate susnshine, kittens and beautiful young girls; so it's up to you to decide where you want to go with this recommendation. Later records to be strictly avoided, but Supersister's first two efforts are whimsical, bright, superbly played and I think a great addition to any Prog head's catalogue.
Area- Arbeit Macht Frei, 1973 The most insane of the Italian Fusion bands of the 70's, I thought of these guys the other day after some lovely pranksters stole the grimly ironic prisoner-made sign bearing the legend of this album's title from above the main gate to Auschwitz- proof, yet again, that pure rotteness and evil has not been even remotely eradicated from this sick world. (Another way to have this proven to yourself in stomach-churning detail is to enter the word "Holocaust" on The Pirate Bay search engine and see how many of the top titles are from my friends in the "Holocaust Revision" (deniers) camp. I'd say these pricks need a lump of coal in their stockings for Christmas, but since they obviously don't believe in ovens it wouldn't do them much good.) Another band, like Moving Gelatine Plates, that seems to be somewhere in the ill-defined Fusion camp between Canterbury and RIO, DJ Micah at Public Sensory Radio has been a tireless advocate for these and other worthy Italian Fusion acts, and you can learn a lot more about the subject by tuning into his show.
Lucifer's Friend- S/T, 1970 I absolutely can't stand their later records and have no idea why the "cult" of LF has gravitated around these putrid jazz-rock releases; but this first record is almost definitive when it comes to the overlooked Heavy Prog ghetto, and to be blunt this record just kicks fucking ass from start to finish. Almost a way to trick Hard Rock fans into appreciating Prog, it's a little bit of Sabbath and a lotta bit of Uriah Heep and a French horn blast for the ages taken straight from "Immigrant Song". You will be rocked, Prog snobs.
Ache- De Homine Urbano (1970) and Green Man (1971) I've made my thoughts known on Denmark elsewhere in this blog; but to encapsulate, for a nation of approximately 4 million people to have produced the amount of great music the Copenhagen scene is responsible for is incredible. This doesn't even take into account all the Icelandic Hard Rock bands (for some reason they really liked to kick ass in Reykjavik) who came over at some point and only added to the trippiness and fuzz. Ache, however, is one of the best; both of these records are excellent, and have enough native quality to make the Copenhagen scene its own thing, decidedly different from elsewhere (e.g., Culpeper's Orchard and Day Of Phoenix, two bands I would encourage you to check out but not having made the one definitive record quite deserving of this list). Epic arrangements and long-form Spacyness, this is a true bridge between the Psychedelic and Progressive Rock eras.
Dennis- Hyperthalamus, 1975 PRHOI co-curator Micah Moses sent this along a few months ago proclaiming it his favorte jazzrock record ever; heady praise from a man who hates sunshine, kittens and beautiful young girls (see above), but praise that must be adumbrated to the strictest scrutiny; sure enough, this is a masterpiece. Jazzy for long periods of time and then dangeorusly abstract, this little known quartet of Germans created a work featuring beautifully sedate and minimalist sleeve art with some fantasitcally complex and byzantine arrangements of the music. Yes, it is also one of my favorite Fusion records, too.
Atomic Rooster- Death Walks Behind You, 1970 Perhaps part of my aversion to this very, very hard rocking English band is due to the uniquely disgusting cover art (tits on a chicken, fag snuffed in an over-easy egg) that bedeviled these lads over their career. However, as PRHOI reader and serious Prog scholar Eric Colin Reidelberger noted after the release of this list, "how you forgot this one is beyond me". Right; it was a true fuck-up on my part, and while this is really the only AR record I like, I like it quite a bit. Just an avalanche of guitar from John DuCann, from the moody opening track and certainly on one of the better instrumentals of the era ("VUG"). The Progressive pedigree is on full display in the latter, and the excellent organ work from the guy responsible for Arthur Brown's absolute monster Psych smash of two years' previous (Vincent Crane; and you can hear a lot of that "Fire"-redolent madness here) is all over the Hammond and makes this one of the more energetic and boisterous albums of the era. Definitely belongs here; thanks to ECR.
Gaa- Auf Der Bahn Zum Uranus, 1974 Another suggestion from a noted Prog Scholar (Sean Kelly, of the Portland Institute of Progressive and Psychedelic Studies) that I simply had never heard of until about five months ago. The workload of getting through the entirety of the Prog era is daunting; if you've never checked out the Prog Archives, do yourself a favor sometime and just see how many bands they have collected as being Prog or in some way Prog-ish or Prog-Related; and I'll probably never hear all, or even close to most, of the albums. No matter; thanks to friends like SK, if I've missed something that they know about, it will make its way to the MacBook Pro Prog Lab at some point, I'm sure of it. And Gaa is one you shouldn't miss, if deeply Kosmische Krautrock is your idea of a good time. Trippy, trippy, trippy- and in parts strenuously funky. Stare at the ceiling and groove, mein Herr.
Osanna- Palepoli, 1972 I've struggled with Rock Progressivo Italiano for years. The most well-known bands (PFM, Museo Rosenbach, Le Orme) I just can't get into; whether it's the sometimes-cloyingly refulgent sleeve art or the fact that most of the singers sound like they are hurting their testicles at some point in their overly-operatic performances, I do not know. But both Mr. Moses and the aforementioned Eric Colin Reidelberger insisted I listen to these guys a few months ago, and sure enough I must say this is a superb album. Hard-rocking flute and less of the painful vocalizing I dislike so much from the typical Italian Proggers, this album is essentially two very-long and fiendishly complicated suites of music; a good way of looking at it might be an Italian version of "Supper's Ready", down to the Medieval and Baroque sounds this very patient band coaxes from their production. Terrific album, I guess it doesn't matter if I put it on here so long as I acknowledge it's something I knew nothing about until less than a year ago. Cite your sources, folks; it's not to much to ask.
Jericho- S/T, 1972 Too many name changes probably doomed this band; because, quite frankly, their music- whether as The Churchills back home in Israel or as first Jericho Jones and then simply Jericho (after an oft-reported but never confirmed stint in a London nightclub playing as "The Originals" and later "The New Originals") is some of the best Psychedelic and then Hard Rock music of the era. I mean seriously; this album is so fucking great I decided it was Progressive "enough" whether anybody likes it or not. Great proto-Metal and a truly beautiful Space Psych track ("Justin and Nova") pave the way for the kick-fucking-ass moment of the album, the insanely hard rocking "Kill Me With Your Love", featuring one of the top 10 guitar solos of all time and lyrics so preposterously suggestive ("Shoot me with your gun is what she told me/ Shoot me with your gun is what she told me"- I mean, are you fucking kidding me???) that you wonder why they just didn't come right out and say "She wanted me to fuck her in the ass but these shiksa goyim pigs just make my balls dry", or something similarly nuanced and restrained. Of course, that doesn't really rhyme all that well so maybe that explains it. Regardless: Jericho is almost overwhelming, really; I like lots of albums from lots of genres, but this is definitely in my crate on that apocryphal island where all good music listeners dream of going and just grooving 'till they die. ESSENTIAL.
Goblin- Soundtrack to Suspiria, 1977 In my humble, the greatest sondtrack to arguably the greatest Horror movie of the 70's- Dario Argento's super-sick masterpiece Suspiria. An Italian Symphonic band who seemed to only make music for Horror films, they did it better than anyone with the possible exception of Popol Vuh, and never better than here. A truly, truly frigtening and disturbing album that is hypnotic and astoundingly precise in the moods it is trying to convey.
Eider Stellaire- I, 1981 Again, absolutely no excuse for not including this Zeuhl masterpiece on the original list; I must have just been subconsciously anti-Vander that day (please forgive me, Master). More jazzy than some Zeuhl releases, this contains without question some of the best playing in the school, absolutely on par with both Weidorje and Eskaton. Essential for transgressive jazz fiends, a near-perfect record.
Teddy Lasry- E=MC2, 1976 Bach-obsessed Zeuhl from a founding member of Magma who knew his way around virtually every woodwind instrument ever conceived; much, much lighter fair than Top or Paganotti projects, this is still highly satisfying and strange music from one of the more unsung heroes of French jazz. Perhaps a good stepping stone for people interested in Zeuhl, but terrfied of its forbidding and monolithic reputation.
Bobby Beausoleil- Soundtrack to Lucifer Rising, 1972 One final omission for now to be rectified, this is a fittingly austere and disturbing suite of music recorded by Manson-family associate Beausoleil, who clearly had a tremendous amount of talent and provided a pitch-perfect score to Kenneth Anger's celebrated underground Satanic art film. It's rare that I can sit down and listen to a soundtrack, much less incidental music, which I think is a good way to describe this solemn Electronic suite; but the very sinister patina that clings to virtually every aspect of this cursed production makes for a troubling, but satisfying listen. Also, you might want to check out Jimmy Page's music for this same film; presumed lost for 30 years, it turned up not long ago and is remarkable for how close his vision was for what Beausoleil actually produced. Page was fired in mid-production by the ever bitchy Anger, and he was indeed very, very lucky that Beausoleil emerged with talent enough to replace someone of the stature of Jimmy Page, for Christ's sakes.