Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fifty Greatest Prog Albums Ever Made- Part II

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.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fifty Greatest Prog Records Ever- Part I

Ok, due to an increasing demand that I actually say what it is I like, I have decided to do a list of 50 albums chosen for their pleasing of the most important audience in the world- me. This has nothing to do with album sales, or obscurity, or critical standing (as if...) or any political bullshit or anything else than what albums I really, really think are amazing and spectacular and that everyone here needs to at least listen to once. Some may find this to be a conservative list; there are many records here that are pretty well known, and I make no apologies for liking things because I like them, and not because I bought some record at a yard sale in Skokie, Illinois in 1977 right when the Nazis were marching through town or whatever else. Also...what is below is in no particular order. I thought about doing that, but to put any of these records above the others is just an exercise in futility- if an album is particularly dear to me, you'll know it from the capsule description provided, trust me. But all of these albums are amazing, and I encourage you to kick the Bad Prog habit for just a little while and...dig on the best Rock music ever made, my brothers. - TKR

Aphrodite’s Child- 666, 1972 Absolutely overwhelming musical masterpiece from soon-to-be-pussy New Age loser Vangelis, who, at this point, was still a musical genius and clearly on many, many drugs. I don’t even know where to start with the superlatives for this album; epic in scope, pop-friendly and psychedelic at the same time (“The Four Horseman”) while also capable of a madness-wassail euphoric avant-garde (“Infinity”), this could be the single most ambitious and perfect achievement of the classic Prog age. Oh yeah, it’s also all about the Book of Revelation, and features a glimpse of Armageddon so convincing you can only hope the real thing turns out to be this gorgeously poetic- The sun was black/ the moon was red/ the stars were falling/ the Earth was trembling/ And then a crowd impossible to number/ Dressed in white/ carrying palms shouted amid the hotless sun/ the lightless moon/ the windless earth/ the colourless sky.. They'll no more suffer from hunger/ they'll no more suffer from thirst. Oh, bliss...god destroy this putrid, people-virused world now if only for a moment of pure poetry like that to be made real...

If you’ve never heard this record, seriously- put the rest of your life on hold before you do ANYTHING other than listen to it. With headphones. And drugs.

Comus- First Utterance, 1971 Undoubtedly the strangest non-Zeuhl album to make this list, these ultra-obscure British Folk Proggers have enjoyed a bit of a resurgence in recent years, as the Internets have made this bizarre album more available to people willing to entertain the idea of listening to a man deliberately sing in a way meant to sound like one of a series of forest animals. No, seriously. The ethereal female vocals and intricate acoustic musicianship make this more approachable, but there is no question that Comus will scare your girlfriend, and perhaps make her leave you for that douche bag at the coffee shop who spins “lounge” music on the weekends at that bar with all the blue drinks and “Asian Fusion” noodle appetizers on the menu. Good riddance.

Tangerine Dream- Atem, 1973 Before they turned into complete fucking faggots with all of that “New Age” shit they cranked out for aging hippies to gum wheat grass to and have lots of icky old-hippie Tantric sex with grey pubic hair and tie-dyed cockrings flying all over the place, it is a fact of history that TD was the single most important Electronic music band ever. People made Electronic music before, sure; but these were serious compositions designed for one purpose: the massive ingestion of every conceivable pill, potion, powder, plant, root and elixir that was available in the free-form pharmacopeia that was the Krautrock scene of the early 1970’s. And the trip was never more perfect, in The Curator’s opine, than this moody and severe masterpiece that has as many bongos on it as synthesizers. This is a feast for Mellotron fans, and Edgar Froese puts that beloved and benighted instrument to astonishingly imaginative use on the epic (20 minute) title track and elsewhere on the album as well. Sparse and unnerving, this is the best of the “Kosmische” albums that I know of, with one possible exception (see below).

Popol Vuh- In Den Garten Pharaos, 1971 Not only one of the most gorgeous album sleeves of all times, but a feast of Acid Psych as well; so sparse that at times it’s almost not there, then back with a ghostly, sepulchral quivering organ sound from somewhere between here and wherever spirits go when they die- the music of Florian Fricke on this album is a near-perfect evocation of German Expressionism from a lifetime before, a canvas of Kokoschka’s or a set design from Murnau, spectral, ambient, other-worldly...gorgeous. This album makes me want to make love, baby. The second track- “Vuh”- is truly surreal, the plangent tones of the cymbals heralding the longest, purest and most luxuriant organ drone you’ll ever hear. The Curator loves this album very dearly, and suggests that even if you don’t like things Germans might listen to before they smoke opium and fall into huge, languorous piles of co-mingling bodies, irrespective of sex and embracing decadence in all its many glorious forms, you might like this album just fine. If nothing else...the 40-minute feast of cunnilingus “Vuh” will inspire you to engage upon will at last satisfy a Proggist’s girlfriend, and she might even stop complaining when you play your Magma from now on. Especially if you’re a real man about things, and take a trip ‘round the sumptuous corner of flesh and hips for the true connoisseur’s repast...

The Can- Monster Movie (1969), Tago Mago (1971) and Ege Bamyasi (1972) Why would you ever speak to anyone who doesn’t like The Can? Why suffer the presence and stench of someone so hopelessly marooned from all sense of artistic beauty and the gloriously liberated mind that they would pull that Hipster shit of being too “cool” for a band that doesn’t wear skinny jeans and rip off Joy Division? The kind of superfluous untermenschen who think rock “came back” with The Strokes aren’t going to “get” The Can, and that’s why I spit on their shadows and curse their names to Satan when they pass me on the street and wait for the day when total anarchy breaks out in an abruptly Mad Max society so that I can feed my wolves with sausages made from their intestines. (You better fucking believe I’m gonna have wolves in this bitch, motherfucker. Go on- come try and get my canned food stockpile and water reserves when I’ve got fucking WOLVES guarding the shit, you Indie Rock listening pack of starving pricks!) Seriously, what could you possibly have against these Titans of Krautrock who made- count ‘em- THREE fucking absolute masterpieces of Krautrock in a three-year span with two different singers, never really missing a beat, and then moving on to make an album many fans think is their absolute best- though I still think Future Days is a tad overrated. But whatever. The point it this: young people might be reading this blog, and perhaps you’ve never heard The Can. Well, now you know who they are, so put away the bullshit and give a listen to what seriously might be the best band of the entire Prog era. Just maybe. Groove. Chill. Listen to Jaki lay down those drum beats with the precision of a German funk machine. GET YOUR FUCKING FREAK ON, GODDAMMIT! Rock out and have violent sex with older men- especially in their late 30’s, especially who know a lot about really good music and know what to fucking do when a Popol Vuh album comes on (see above). All that stuff. Yeah, especially that last part...

Magma- Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh, 1973 When it was released, MDK was, quite possibly, the most original and unique album ever made in the history of rock until that point. Surely, the serious music press must have been startled to insensate blathering trying to explain this sinister triumph of one crazed genius and his vision of planetary extinction in the same year that utterly contemptible shit like 10cc and Little Feat dominated the charts. Nothing before it- not even Magma’s first two records- could have even remotely prepared the listener for the full flowering of Christian Vander’s insane Science Fiction genius, with its staggering repetition, brutally rebarbative vocals sung in a made-up language choked with umlauts and guttural phrasing, punishing, growling bass from the great Jannick Top and a brass section so oppressive and Fascistic that even Wagner and Holst must bow to the mighty cruelty that is Magma’s magnum opus. It is pointless to try to “describe” Zeuhl music, especially a work of pure Satanic genius like this; but if you can deal with this mesmerizingly grueling and lacerating music, your life will never be the same after Magma, and most of what you had heretofore listened to will fade to utter insignificance; MDK is an act of pure musical aggression, and completely eradicates all other inferior life forms and genres it encounters. One of the greatest pieces of music of the 20th Century.

Magma- Kohntarkosz, 1974 More melodic and less purely an act of aural terrorism as MDK was, Kohntarkosz is, still, not for the faint of heart and another album that will scare children, dogs and women in equal measure. The keyboard work here of Gerard Bikialo is astonishing; listen to the first part of the suite a few times, and you will hear a series of minor chords driving the entirety of the piece forward and downward at the same time, and then everything gradually recovering as the organ switches to very powerful and decisive major chords; this is serious music from incredible musicians, and our Kobaian-singing Prog-cultist lads are so much more interesting than most of the pap on the radio from that era that any band that dare not honor Magma deserves nothing but death- immediate, unremitting and with no hope of appeal or succor. In many ways a more satisfying listen than the former masterpiece, Vander’s repetitive drone reaches new and more terrifying heights, and Top’s bass is, again, innovative and cruel; completely invalidates most artists’ inconsequential and utterly trivial work.

Black Widow- Sacrifice, 1970 Long-time readers of The Curator’s work will realize his deep affinity for the Dark Prince of The Underworld, Lord Satan, and in general his love of anything Occult, Black Magickal, or made by Hammer film studios. And there’s lots of quality Satanic product out there, surely, but none of it is as flat-out fun as Black Widow’s near-perfect 1970 release, containing what might be the most infectiously evil fun-time-doom-bye-ah sing along ever, the ludicrously catchy “Come to the Sabbat” (“SATAN’S THERE!!!”). That may be their most famous song, but there is one catchy track on this album after another, and everything- everything- from the gorgeous sleeve art to the incredibly deft and deep production to the standard of all the musicianship on the album- there’s not one bad performer here- is flat-out fucking spot-on perfect and tremendously enjoyable. A great record by a band with a legendary stage show, featuring fire, demon heads, more fire, big-ass English swords and cups of blood, again more fire, full-frontal nudity and a fucking sacrifice to the fucking Devil of said super-hot naked English chick- man, if you can honestly say you could ever want more from a rock n’ roll show, you are one impossible to please motherfucker, is all I’m going to say. Absolutely required for any serious Prog and Psych music head. One of my favorite albums of all-time.

Hawkwind- Space Ritual, 1973 There has always been a controversy as to whether live albums “count”, and should be included on lists like this. Well, it’s my list, and I’ll put whatever the hell I want on it, and to ignore what is, without question, the greatest fucking head trip in the history of Prog just because it’s “live” is fucking stupid. An enormous record- almost two hours long on the full-feature CD release- I simply defy you to not want to do drugs at some point while listening to the endless spacey grooves these guys lay down, replete with bad space poetry and epic track lengths that seem like they don’t care how long it takes to get to the cold corner of the Universe where we’re all headed- although there are no doubt plenty of friendly space drugs waiting at that place, which everyone will no doubt see the wisdom of inhaling in meta-globulous, insanely vast space quantities. If Aleister Crowley and Carl Sagan somehow managed to fuck and procreate a Star Child of an album, Space Ritual would be that cosmic trip demon. Absolutely mandatory in opium dens, coolie pits and languorous hippie brothels bursting with silk-skinned teenage girls with flower-painted bosoms and angelic and lustfully-scented adolescent pudenda...and of course in your ITunes collection as well, space cadet.

Gunter Schikert- Uberfallig, 1979 Fans of Pinhas or Achim Reichel should be aware that there was another echoplex-crazed Euro-guitarist in the 70’s, and he made an album that was the single greatest challenge I’ve had in tracking down music since I lost the majority of my life to the endless study of Progressive Rock some time ago. I mean, seriously- this is one fucking elusive album, man. The genius record collector Spacefreak (who I am proud to say reads this blog- one of the greatest achievements in my life, I must admit) posted it a couple of years ago at the absolutely indispensable Mutant Sounds, but the link was down for a while and I honestly don’t know if it’s still there of not. Schikert made several albums of Electro-weirdness and all of his work is interesting, even the curiously reviled Somnambul from 1995 (too “modern” for the uber-pissy Prog Snobs of PRIC, I wonder?). But this is the only one I’d say you really must listen to before you die, though I’d also say once you go down this road and start listening to music that is as difficult, polarizing and hated as Electro-Prog, you should maybe consider how much “happiness” means to you (or pussy, for that matter) and whether you are willing to trade it for a more perfect knowledge of the Universe and the own undiscovered country sitting unexplored behind your eyes. Trip, flip and meditate, baby.

King Crimson- Lark’s Tongues in Aspic, 1973 I’ve been listening to this album- and all it’s many live permutations collected on live concert recordings of variations of the material- for over 30 years and have never grown tired of it. Definitive statements are largely pointless, and I try to stay away from them consequently, but this is more than likely the single greatest Progressive Rock album ever recorded and I really don’t trust or like people who don’t “get it”. A perfect achievement, and without question a masterpiece of engineering and production; every little sound is there for a reason, and adds to the overwhelming experience of listening to this album while smoking a huge amount of opium (which I’ve already made arrangements for as my preferred method of demise, when that time comes).

King Crimson- In The Court Of The Crimson King, 1969 What can you possibly say about what many consider to be the very first “Progressive” rock record? Heavy, trippy, terrifying, musically astonishing and visually arresting; every band in the world wishes they could say this was one of their album sleeves, and that’s why when I see that dickhead drummer from Dream Theater wearing a T-shirt with the sleeve art on it, I get violent fantasies and prostitutes have to die. Go get your “cred” somewhere else, you fucking Neo-Prog uber-poseur cocksuckers.

King Crimson- Red, 1974 Fripp’s unabashed “guitar” record, featuring the greatest solo in the history of the instrument, the endlessly patient and tormenting “Starless”. Having said all they needed to say, the original Crimson finally split for good, leaving this document as a full refutation of the overwrought histrionics of Yes, and the preposterous bombast of ELP. A sad but necessary demise.

King Crimson- Discipline, 1981 By far the best of the “new” KC’s output, Belew and Fripp are completely simpatico on dreamy guitar excursions like “The Sheltering Sky” and Msrs. Bruford and Levin comprise a beautifully melancholy and contemplative rhythm section. This version of the band polarizes the room of KC denizens, but there is no question this is a near-perfect record and has some of Fripp’s most introspective material.

Heldon- VI: Interface, 1978 There’s really not a bad Heldon record, but this one rises above the others for the pure inhuman coldness of the title track- some of the most forbidding and terrifying music ever recorded. A schizophrenic fugue and a wall of noise, I’ve counted layers of electronic vertigo at least eight deep on this album, and have had more neighbors pound on more walls to hector me into turning the volume down on Interface than any other record I’ve ever owned. Philistine neighbor hatred being as sure a sign as possible of a transgressive triumph, this is absolutely one of my favorite albums of all time.

Heldon- VII: Stand By, 1979 The other undeniable masterpiece of Pinhas’ Heldon project, the musicianship here is as always almost unbelievable and precise, but where Stand By really goes overboard is in the absolutely fucking EPIC guitar jam of the title track, where every Fripp-trick in the great Pinhas’ arsenal is on full display for fourteen fucking minutes of pure fucking ROCK. This man could play fucking guitar, there is no question about it; essential, and probably a good place for Heldon-virgins to start, before trying to untangle the labyrinthine coldness and inhumanity of Interface.

Richard Pinhas- Iceland, 1980 Almost as if he feared Heldon was becoming a tad too “human” with the warmth and fuzziness of Stand By, Richard Pinhas decided to fly solo for his next record and produced an album of such clinical cruelty as to almost qualify as an inducement to mass suicide. I love this fucking record. Distant, lugubrious, forbidding, austere, cruel- if Iceland were a woman, I would worship her as a goddess and die at her command. For I would have finally found the creature who best knows my heart; and could shred that black dead thing with a thin, cold smile on her ice-white face.

Nekropolis- Musik aus dem Schattenreich, 1981 Ever wonder what the music scene is like in Hell? Well, the very gifted German Electronic composer Peter Frohmayer apparently made a trip there at some point, took notes, and then came back from across the River Styx and made this uplifting and deeply optimistic record as a result. Seriously, folks- your Curator is not often accused of being a very jejune and joyously serene kind of person, but this fucking album is enough to make me put the sharp objects away and behind a lock for the night. “Ghul” and “Pagan” are about as close to pure desolation those fun-loving German horror-rockers have ever actually succeeded in capturing, but the entire record is one long and disturbingly morbid trip into the mind of someone who clearly was in need of help. Thankfully, Frohmeyer didn’t get it before he recorded this album, and what we have is something of a lurid and beauteous evil as result.

Igor Wakhevitch- Hathor, 1973 All of M. Wakhevitch’s albums are amazing, and they are also something else- unique. There are a ton of Electronic composers who made music of vary degrees of intensity and intelligence in the 70’s, but Wakhevitch stands out because he would appear to be, clearly, flat-out fucking evil. And Hathor is Wakhevitch at his assuredly most Occult and Old Scratch-lovin’ best. A bizarre, relentless and terrifying album, with abstract Electronic sections punctuated with a stentorian-voiced narrator making guttural observations voiced in a menacing French, Hathor is the kind of album you will either listen to and flee in terror from or...if like me, become obsessed with for days on end, hunkering down in a darkened apartment with sorrow, longing and cigarettes, ghosts of every failed romance and lost hope battering your brain and making you wish you could see just one of your enemies die in fits of awe-inspiring pain, hoping against hope that the next time you listen to it Satan himself will finally appear in a veil of malevolence with a smile and a contract dripping blood and merely say- “You rang?”

Egg- The Polite Force, 1971 All three Egg albums are brilliant, but this one rises above the others on the strength of the opening track (“A Visit to Newport Hospital”, which Prog-o-file Eric Colin Reidelberger claims is an account of the aftermath of an attack by skinheads!) and is probably the best Canterbury Scene record not made by The Soft Machine. Jazzy and whimsical, the Canterbury good humour is there in force, but the darker edge of some of the music makes this a much more complicated Canterbury, and also an album that never fails to open more intriguing avenues of appreciation for the listener.

Univers Zero- Heresie, 1979 A few years ago I had a job tending bar at a place where I had control of what music was played for the clientele on certain nights. One of the other bartenders, who usually had that responsibility, just happened to have a floor shift that night, and he always played this despicable and cowardly Indie pop music, shit so bad it literally made my job a fucking drag to go to if him and his goddamn Arcade Fire and Neutral Milk Hotel (what a bunch of assholes, to name yourself that) were on the CD player that night. So I got him back one night and played this- what surely is the most evil record ever recorded, music so dark and desolate that it makes your vindictive Curator smile just thinking what it must have been like for this asshole and his loser friends to have to sit there and listen to the sound of the pits of Hell opened and suppurating like a sonic tumor, greyly metastasizing right in your ears and stealing your soul. Ha ha ha, indeed.

I was written up the next shift for playing such a bit of deliberately provocative terror, which didn’t bother me at all as that place was filled with losers with no taste and I was looking for an excuse to walk out, and Univers Zero and what I maintain is the best RIO record ever recorded gave me that joyous escape. And by the way- this really is a seriously scary album. Seriously. It also takes Chamber Rock in directions unknown and unimaginable up to that point, and is the pinnacle in the career of a man- Daniel Denis- whom I truly believe to be, along with Christian Vander and Richard Pinhas, one of the truly great visionaries of Avant-Garde music in the past 30 years.

Alrune Rod- Alrunes Rod, 1969 Spectacular Danish Psych-Space freakout that starts moody and lurches to true punk anarchy in fits of inspired Hammond-laced fury. From an incredibly fecund Copenhagen scene absolutely soaked in acid and free-ranging hippies, these guys were the class of the lot. Brilliant vocals and pitch-perfect Psych production make this an archetype segue from Psychedelia longing to emerge as true Progressive Rock. One of my favorite albums of all time.

Faust- The Wumme Years, 1970-73 Yes, it’s a box set, and that means it shouldn’t count, but I’m including this because it’s unthinkable to make up a Top 50 list and not include Faust, but the actual fact is that the band’s recorded output is incredibly spotty, none of their studio albums rising above moments of genius interspersed with nutty avant garde-iness that often just sounds like a bunch of Germans making noise in a room. This cacophonous comeuppance is happily rectified with this excellent box, which allows you to have the single best thing the band ever did- the BBC+ Sessions disc, the first track featuring a bizarre acid-jazz trip-out that lurches into a keyboard drone guaranteed to induce mesmeric bliss. Out-fucking-standing weirdness and quintessential Krautrock.

Barclay James Harvest- S/T, 1970 No band has probably fallen apart more completely and with such disastrous results as BJH (simply everything after 1977- a pitiful and wretched collapse matched perhaps only by Gentle Giant’s slow and sad demise) but their first half dozen records are among the best Symphonic Prog ever made. This is for your more mellow afternoons, Prog-o-nauts; excellent and tasteful use of the Mellotron and one of the single best songs of the era (“Taking Some Time On”) make this a mandatory listen for anyone interested in classic Brit Prog.

Eskaton- 4 Visions, 1979 France in the 1970’s was an extremely productive and exceptionally experimental place. While the rest of the world was making cringe-inducing Fusion jazz so lame it made Barry Manilow sound energetic by comparison, the French jazz scene was overrun with insane bands making insane music none of which can be hummed and most of which will earn you stares of complete hatred if people overhear you listening to it in public. Zeuhl is the most extreme example of that kind of Foucault-esque “Limit Experience Jazz”, and Eskaton’s first record is one of the most extreme examples of this already extreme example. Soaring and ethereal female vocals make an incongruous pairing with some of the most frenetically-paced musicianship of the era, driven by a Jannick Top-inspired bass and Fender piano taken right from Kohntarkosz-era Magma. One of the absolute best of the Zeuhl-school records, and as extreme today as it was 30 years ago.

Colosseum- Valentyne Suite, 1969 This album would make it just on the strength of the first song, the fuzz-and-wah Psychedelic excess of “The Kettle”. But the album just keeps on going, and is probably second only to the Soft Machine for taking jazz rock to since-unequalled heights of heavyness; everything about this album works, though I’m especially fond of Heckstall-Smith’s sax work, which almost makes Valentyne Suite a straight-up jazz record at times. Pretty soulful for a bunch of British guys.

Cosmos Factory- An Old Castle of Transylvania, 1973 If ever an album has completely succeeded in creating the atmosphere the band set out to create, this impressionist masterpiece from Japan’s masters of protean re-invention would be it. With section titles like “Forest of the Death” and a crushingly severe crash of piano to open the 20-minute title track, Old Castle is a perfect gothic horror and perhaps the most satisfying orgy of Hammond organ ever etched to vinyl. This is a great album, and a tremendous lot of fun to listen to as well.

Picchio dal Pozzo- S/T, 1976 From Italy, but not Rock Progressivo Italiano; Canterbury, but not English. These two contradictions don’t make a lot of sense, but fortunately in Prog not making any sense can often lead to wonderful creativity and counter-intuitively brilliant results. “Seppia” is simply one of the best things ever recorded, and the rest of the album lives up to this dark and droning dirge with lots of reverb, children performing menacing chants and flutes and arpeggios trilling and floating across a wondrously Promethean palette of sound; a wonderful dark fantasy from a band that sadly went nowhere commercially and made only a handful of records.

Centipede- Septober Energy, 1971 Another one your girlfriend is not going to like very much, and it’s records like these that make my continued enforced chastity a sure bet for the foreseeable future. Fine with me, since otherwise I might have to “branch out” or “stop being so pig-headed” as they say and listen to, oh I don’t know...things that fucking suck. No thanks. Anyway, about the record, well...pretty much everybody in the world played on it, the idea being one Keith Tippett came up with while on sabbatical from one of his many projects and which ended up having no less than 50 musicians involved (or one-hundred legs- “centipede”, get it????). Riotous Free Jazz and a buttload of brass merge with Serialist-like floating passages where the notes fade away like planks from a rope bridge falling into an abyss; bleak and stertorous, then vibrant and opaque, this is a one-of-a-kind Canterbury album that features some of the best musicians in the world all putting their egos aside to be part of something that could never, ever conceivably happen again. Absolutely highly recommended, especially since it’s so little known outside of truly disturbed shut-in Prog fans like me and my co-curator.

Collegium Musicum- Konvergencie, 1971 Marian Varga’s absolutely massive musical statement from Czechoslovakia, where playing rock music was a counter-revolutionary act and took real balls. Endlessly harassed by the authorities (who forced them to remove the cigarette from the young man’s mouth on the sleeve photograph, among other inane hassles and trivialities), CM missed out on the worldwide stardom that should have been theirs, especially as Varga is one of the greatest Hammond organ players of all time and his compositions are much, much more focused than the ELP tracks they are constantly (and unfairly) compared to. Varga’s pitch bending theatrics and rampaging solos alone make this a classic; the whole of the album may be a bit overwhelming, but it rewards patience with each listen, and makes it okay to enjoy flat-out ostentatious rondos and coruscating showmanship without having to put up with Keith Emerson’s appalling smugness.

Time- S/T, 1972 A great Croatian band that was a kind of “Super Group” for Yugoslavia at the time, these guys made very, very heavy Progressive Rock that is reminiscent of Jethro Tull, if Jethro Tull wasn’t so boring and sucked so much. First two tracks are as good as anything you’ll ever hear in the “Heavy Prog” sub-ghetto, and this is another bunch that should have been far better known in the West, had it not been for the trouble even bands in the relatively relaxed Titoist state had to put up with. Worth searching out and adding to your collection, a real gem of heavyness and mature song writing.

Pink Floyd- Dark Side Of The Moon, 1973 Yep, it’s on the list, and it’s fucking staying there and don’t even bother to send complaints or try to vandalize the site by posting “clever” comments about how this selection clearly indicates my fondness for sucking cock or wanting to own a Hummer and live in LA or whatever else, as I have an automatic screening device installed for this blog which removes any occurrences of a personal insult in proximity to the search term “DSOM”, or “Dark”, “Side”, or “Moon” for that matter. So don’t fucking bother and fucking get over yourself; it’s an absolutely brilliant record. Why this album is so detested by the “serious” Prog community is a complete mystery leaving me totally baffled; it’s also an irrelevancy, as I consider DSOM to be a near perfect trip, and an album ideally suited to taking a Percocette, drinking a glass of red wine, and getting under the covers on a cold rainy day and fucking staying there, in a complete and happily desolate oblivion. Bonus Fact: girls actually will listen to DSOM, making it virtually unique on this list of boys and their “stuff”. So you do what you want, but I’ve still got erections that need attending to and life is more than collecting B-sides of Indonesian chamber jazz ensembles and selling your car to buy a new turntable. You fucking freaks, anyway.