He Dreamt Music

And then he composed it, and his compositions were groundbreaking. Vangelis, the Greek god of the keyboards, laid the foundation for cyberpunk with his bleak, brooding, synth-heavy score in the classic neo-noir film Blade Runner. If ever you find yourself cruising solo through a gritty, neon-lit city on a rainy night, play the soundtrack below. You will not be disappointed.

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Thirty-Four): Fuzzy Duck

Don’t let the afro and fringed pouch fool you: Fuzzy Duck packs quite a punch. Hailing from England, this rare bird of a band managed to release only one album before falling into obscurity. Like Steppenwolf and Atomic Rooster, Fuzzy Duck produced organ-driven music with an edge to it. Here are some of the highlights:

The opening number “Time Will Be Your Doctor” begins with a groovy bass line and drum beat courtesy of bassist Mick Hawksworth and drummer Paul Francis, who provide a solid foundation throughout the album. Guitarist Graham White and organist Roy Sharland also show off their chops on their respective instruments, and it is the latter two gentlemen who truly carry this album.

“Mrs. Proust,” the following piece, will probably remind many listeners of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride”: Sharland shreds on the organ during a superb solo, but White is never far removed from the scene with his crunchy, distorted guitar providing an extra edge to this song.

White does his best work on “Country Boy,” a dynamic song that has a “rushing through the city” feel to it. Robin Trower’s influence can be heard on this – arguably their heaviest – track.

The album closes with the tongue-in-cheek “A Word from Big D,” an organ-led instrumental punctuated with (somewhat annoying) duck calls. It doesn’t hold up well compared to the other tracks on the album, but it’s not the worst attempt at levity I’ve ever heard.

Aficionados of organ-driven hard rock and prog – especially Vincent Crane’s work in Atomic Rooster and Goldy McJohn’s in Steppenwolf – will appreciate this solid effort. It may not blow anyone away, but as far as early proto-metal bands go, Fuzzy Duck is one of those under-appreciated worth a listen or two.

Stay tuned for number thirty-five!

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Thirty-Three): However

One might imagine that a band that adopted a common conjunctive adverb as its name would lack creativity; however, that is not the case. Among the many bands I have covered in this series so far, However is without question one of the more rhythmically complex. In fact, comparisons to Gentle Giant and Frank Zappa would not be uncalled for. Like Gentle Giant, However’s four members display an impressive dexterity on a variety of instruments: brothers Peter and Joe Princiotto play everything from synthesizer and autoharp (Peter) to drums and trash can lids (Joe). Bobby Read’s saxophones steal the show on most songs, but he’s also no slouch on the clarinet, xylophone, and glockenspiel (among other instruments). And Bill Kotapish, although not credited with an equally long laundry list of instruments, performs superbly on bass and lead guitar. Like Frank Zappa, these boys clearly had some fun with the lyrics which, although used sparingly (on four out of ten songs), would appeal to many a progger’s quirky side (check out “Beese” below).

Despite the tracks’ complex structure and melody, they tend to be on the shorter side: the first three pieces are under four minutes each, but are nevertheless delightful to the music lover’s ear. The fourth piece, “Louise Sitting in a Chair,” is downright lovely: Peter’s piano and Bobby’s saxophones will have you convinced that Louise ought to remain forever fixed in her position. The title track features eerie soundscapes a la Robert Fripp punctuated here and there by Bobby’s saxes, which need no rest on this album. But the highlight of the ten, as mentioned earlier, opens with spoken word: “The bumblebee makes two different musical tones as it flies.” And the band seem to take this to heart, treating our ears to quirky synth sounds that imitate the frenetic buzzing of bees before re-introducing the sax and allowing Bill to shine with some deft work on his electric guitar. A touch of Zappa appears about five minutes in with some bizarre spoken word vocals that any fan of prog will appreciate.

The vocals may not blow you away, but they are not However’s centerpiece. What this band offers is a fantastical journey through a land of melodic and rhythmic complexity. Sounds to hear along the way will include the standard drums, bass, guitar, and keys, but as a bonus you will also be treated to the sounds of the duck call, marimba, kalimba, and – as the album ends – the gentle lapping of waves. Bon voyage!

Stay tuned for number thirty-four!

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Thirty-Two): Rainbow Theatre

How does this strike your fancy? King Crimson (RIP, Mr. McDonald) + Australia + a string ensemble + jazz rock + opera = Fantasy of Horses. Sound interesting? If so, then you may enjoy the music of the somewhat divisive Rainbow Theatre. Based upon other reviews I have read, even proggers find this album difficult to categorize: is it an obscure masterpiece? An unjustly maligned effort? Or a cheap imitation of King Crimson? I’m not sure where I stand on this at the moment, so I’ll leave it to you to decide. Hailing from the Land Down Under, Rainbow Theatre released two albums in the mid-70s, Fantasy of Horses being the second of the two. Here’s a brief review of this polarizing album:

The album opens with the instrumental “Rebecca.” In what sounds like an homage to In the Court of the Crimson King, Rainbow Theatre begins with a beautiful mellotron and horn-driven sound. Bassist Ferg McKinnon is the focal point on this piece, however: his thunderous hammering drives this track along.

“Dancer” is perhaps the strongest track on the album. Like many a great progressive track, there are several notable melodic and sonic shifts throughout this piece: gentle organ and horns introduce the song before we first hear Keith Hoban’s dramatic vocals. Unlike Freddie Mercury, however, Hoban does not pull off the operatic style he is trying to capture, resulting in what may charitably be described as a “forced” sound. Despite the underwhelming vocals, this piece benefits from its dynamic character: after a flourish of horns and bass we are treated to some impressive work on the trumpet courtesy of Frank Graham and a solid guitar solo from Julian Browning (who doubles as a keyboardist). A sudden transition to piano and flute caresses our ears with pleasant harmonies before we return to horns and mellotron toward the conclusion of the piece.

Drummer Graeme Carter (who shines throughout the album) leads a frenetic opening charge in “Caption for the City Night Life,” which captures the attitude of King Crimson’s “Pictures in a City” fairly well. Carter’s drum solo is an especial standout on this track.

The title song (see below) transitions from a soft piano melody to pounding bass and horns to a spacey, Tangerine Dream-like sequence to more enjoyable interplay between horns, bass, and percussion. Like “Dancer,” this is a dynamic piece that would qualify as excellent if it were not for the operatic vocals. Overall, however, it’s a fitting conclusion to this album.

Is Fantasy of Horses worth a listen? Without a doubt. I cannot say it will appeal to all tastes, but those of you who find yourselves hooked will appreciate the interplay between the bass, percussion, and horns, all of which are played with a passion and skill comparable to some of the classic progressive artists.

Stay tuned for number thirty-three!

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Thirty-One): Web

Remember Samurai? I reviewed their excellent eponymous album all the way back in June 2021. As I mentioned in that article, Samurai had previously performed under the name Web, a jazz-rock outfit that released three albums in the late 1960s/early 1970s. I Spider, Web’s last release, was also the group’s first album to feature keyboard whiz and vocalist Dave Lawson, later of Greenslade fame. Although Lawson’s talent on keys, organ, and piano, could not ultimately salvage the band, he did settle in nicely to a lead role, brief as it may have been. The combination of his keys and Tom Harris’s saxes gives the album a Canterbury/fusion feel that many prog lovers would appreciate. Here are some of the highlights:

“Concerto for Bedsprings” is a curious opening number about a chap’s struggles with insomnia. The organ dominates for a moment before sax and piano lead us into a jazz-lounge like interlude. We then transition from the dark, smoky ambience of the lounge for the sweat and funk of the dance floor when the bass guitar breaks in. A smooth sax solo follows shortly thereafter. I can’t imagine this musical odyssey cured this fellow’s sleep deprivation, but it would certainly keep him from remaining bored while awake at odd hours of the night.

The only instrumental track on the album, “Ymphasomniac” features an eclectic mix of mellotron, bongo drums (a fun interlude about two minutes in), drums, piano, and finally sax and organ to cap it off at the end. Harris again shines with his sax work here.

Distorted guitar and organ introduce the final track, “Always I Wait,” which is without question the most brooding and ominous piece on the album. Those with a slightly twisted sense of humor should listen closely to the lyrics….

Lawson’s vocals will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but his work on the keys, organ, and piano more than make up for what he lacks in singing ability. Fans of The Nice, Atomic Rooster, Greenslade, or jazz fusion in general will appreciate the musicianship on this obscure gem.

Stay tuned for number thirty-two!

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Thirty): Holding Pattern

The album cover just sort of grabs you, doesn’t it?

A belated Happy New Year to my fellow Progarchists and to all of our dedicated followers! I figured it would be appropriate to continue my series in this new year by reviewing a band that apparently hails from my home state (Connecticut). Holding Pattern released this album – their first – in 1981. An instrumental clocking in at just under thirty minutes, it may strike one at first glance as being too short to qualify as prog – after all, many individual prog songs are longer. But this album packs a symphonic punch in the vein of Happy the Man and Steve Hackett that is worth a listen. So without further ado:

The opening number, “Another Point of View,” has an upbeat feel to it: a great piece to enjoy whilst relaxing on a summer’s eve. Driven by Tony Spada’s guitar (reminiscent of Hackett’s early solo work) and Mark Tannenbaum’s keys, this piece hearkens back to the classic era of symphonic prog and is sure to delight any listener.

“Honor Before Glory” opens with the classic and beautiful sound of the mellotron before Spada again unleashes on guitar. Spada’s sound – no cheap imitation of Hackett’s – is complemented on this piece by Tannenbaum’s virtuosity on the keys.

“Jigsaw Dream” opens with a flourish of synths before transitioning to a funky cadence that is sure to appeal to fusion fans. Bassist Jerry Lalancette and drummer Robert Hutchinson, who provide a superb rhythm section throughout the album, anchor this piece with a groovy beat that makes “Jigsaw Dream” the most dynamic track on the album.

The closing piece, “Out of the Tunnels,” is the edgiest and “darkest” track on the album: the band, while remaining true to their symphonic and fusion roots, explores territory that was best exemplified by King Crimson during their Larks’ and Red era.

Like so many under-appreciated prog albums, this one deserves another chance. Lovers of classic symphonic prog who don’t mind a touch of fusion will appreciate this fine work, but this is an album that can find a place in almost anyone’s collection.

Stay tuned for number thirty-one!

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Twenty-Nine): Et Cetera

Do you admire the technical virtuosity of Gentle Giant? (You probably do – you’re a reader of Progarchy, after all.) Do you speak French, or at least consider the language beautiful? (Of course you do.) Then consider listening to this long lost Quebecois gem. Et Cetera, a Canadian quintet (with a female vocalist!), released their sole album in the USA’s bicentennial year, but unfortunately disbanded shortly thereafter. This was certainly a shame considering their level of skill: Marie Bernard Page has the voice of an angel (you’ll appreciate her talent from the get go); Robert Marchand transitions from soft strumming on acoustic guitar to jazzy licks on electric with ease (see “Entre chien et loup” and “Apostrophe” to hear it for yourself); Denis Chartrand plays with the focus of Kerry Minnear and would certainly be his match in a duel of keyboard virtuosos; and Alain Pigeon and Pierre Dragon on bass and drums, respectively, prove that those two winged creatures can get along splendidly when they combine their talents in order to tackle a variety of intricate rhythmic patterns.

Some critics dismissed Et Cetera as a Gentle Giant clone, but they clearly failed to appreciate what each of these musicians brought to the table. The gorgeous, multi-layered vocal harmonies; rock-solid rhythm section; and symphonic synth and keys (among other instruments, including flute, sax, and cello) place this quintet near the top of the list of obscure gems. Fans of Gentle Giant should definitely give this a spin, but any serious prog aficionado will find something to appreciate here.