Yes, I want to break into song. I just recently rewatched THE SOUND OF MUSIC with my two oldest daughters. I’d forgotten what a great joy the whole movie is, and how satisfying it is that the family outwitted the Nazis. As their followers, the alt-nuts grow in audacity in America, I hope the descendants of Captain Von Trapp continue to thwart their efforts.
What does any of this have to do with Roie Avin’s latest book, Essential Modern Progressive Rock Albums: Images and Words Behind Prog’s Most Celebrated Albums, 1990-2016 (phew—what a title!!!) you ask? Ok, a legitimate question.
However, I can answer it simply, if not somewhat goofily.
Books and prog? Well, these are a few of my favorite things! Imagine how great it is when there are books written about prog albums and prog albums written about books! Heaven. Pure, heaven. Almost as good as dancing across the Alps with the family Von Trapp!
As everyone well knows, Avin is a major and present figure in the prog scene. He writes frequently, he runs a wonderful website, he runs his own PR firm, and he serves as a go-between between fans and artists. He’s the grand NEXUS. And, to top it all off, he’s a really nice and sharp guy to boot. All good.
His latest book, Essential Modern Progressive Rock Albums: Images and Words Behind Prog’s Most Celebrated Albums, 1990-2016 (oh, man—this title just never gets old; it’s like the song title of a classic prog album), is as much a must own as is Pink Floyd’s ANIMALS; Yes’s GOING FOR THE ONE; Rush’s MOVING PICTURES; and Big Big Train’s UNDERFALL YARD. No serious progger should be without it in his (or her) collection.
The thing you’ll notice first with this book, is its weight and its density. I love it. This is not some fly-by-night book or periodical. This thing has heft.
The second thing you’ll notice is how stunningly laid out the book is. The pictures are glorious, and they’re glorious not just because of the subjects of said photos, but because of the way they’re cropped, the way they’re positioned, and the way they’re explicative of the subject surrounding them.
Then, once you’re satisfied by the physical object and its beauty, you’ll notice its most important attribute: the gravity and love of the written word as given to us by Roie Avin. And, make no mistake, this book is written with excellence and joy. The author, rightly, prides himself in his craft and his subject. What else should we expect from a serious progger? After all, as Mr. Peart taught us many times, there’s nothing worth doing unless it is done to perfection.
Strikingly, Avin focuses the book on what many have labeled “third-wave prog,” the present stage of the genre that began in the early 1990s. The first wave was classic prog, ended by punk and New Wave, and the second wave, centered in the 1980s, was dominated by what was called “neo-Prog.” Avin takes his story of third-wave prog up through 2016. While one might legitimately quibble about the “waves” of prog—their essences as well as their limits—the argument holds. Avin prefers to call this latest time period, beginning in 1990, “modern progressive rock.” Yet, he is also loathe to divide too much. After all, he writes, “prog didn’t fall of the cliff after getting Close to the Edge, it continued on the Bridge Across Forever.” A nice play on titles.
By focusing on “modern progressive rock,” though, Avin intentionally excludes albums released by classic prog bands—such as Yes and Rush—in the time period of the book, 1990-2016. This makes perfect sense, as Avin is trying to show the creative process of his time period rather than the continuing creative process of the original period.
The story, for Avin, begins with the release of Queenryche’s “Empre” in 1990. As such, Avin structures the entire book chronologically around the release of key albums, 54 in total. Most of the albums I was familiar with, but several were new to me. In particular, I’d never heard of the groups–Cynic, Between the Buried and Me, Karnivool, Thank You Scientist, Scale the Summit, or The Deer Hunter. Otherwise, all of the albums were familiar ones. Some of Avin’s choices puzzle me a bit, but not to the extent that I think he’s wrong. He’s just got interesting views. As an example, one of his 54 essential albums is Neal Morse’s SOLA SCRIPTURA. I could easily see THE GRAND EXPERIMENT as a top 54, but I find SOLA SCRIPTURA not only Morse’s least interesting album, I actually think it’s offensive. And, for the record, I’m not readily offended. Again, though, these are VERY personal choices, and I have no major argument with Avin beside this one regarding Morse.
There’s no question that Avin poured himself into this book. It shows on every page. Such excellence. He even loaded the book with lots of quotes from the artists themselves, quotes and passages that can’t be found anywhere else as Avin did all of his own interviews. This, in and of itself, is impressive.
Please don’t let my one criticism of the book bother you. The book is not just well worth owning, it really is a must own. I’m already looking forward to the sequel. Until then, I’ll go rip up some Nazi flags and dance across the mountains.