Connor’s Best of the Obscure

Much to my shame, I have listened little to the latest offerings from the eclectic world of prog. I am currently working on changing this bad habit of mine, but I confess it has been difficult, as I still have many obscure gems to unearth (and I will continue my list soon – I promise!). Anyway, in no particular order, here are my top ten obscure prog artists (out of an ongoing list currently standing at thirty-four):

  1. CathedralStained Glass Stories: the first album review I ever wrote for Progarchy just so happened to concern one of the better obscure gems I have discovered thus far, a symphonic masterpiece evocative of Yes or Genesis.
  2. UniverseUniverse: psychedelia mixed with a dash of Christianity makes for a rare but beautiful bird of an album in the rich world of 1970s music.
  3. Alloy NowTwin Sister of the Milky Way: space prog at its finest. Major Tom would have been better off if he had this album on his final journey through the heavens.
  4. Jan Dukes de GreyMice and Rats in the Loft: Nursery Cryme‘s obscure cousin, an album both comical and horrifying at the same time. Also, Derek Noy shreds on twelve-string guitar. Shreds.
  5. IslandPictures: a cover designed by Giger and music blending the darkness of Van der Graaf Generator with the dexterity of Gentle Giant? These chaps certainly offer one of the more complex obscurities out there.
  6. HandsHands: America’s answer to Gentle Giant. But these chaps are no copy cats: they are top notch musicians who gave to the world their own idiosyncratic sound.
  7. LiftCaverns of Your Brain: a superb effort by a group of young American musicians. Aficionados of symphonic and space prog will love this gem.
  8. FruuppThe Prince of Heaven’s Eyes: as a chap of Irish descent, I suppose I have a soft spot for young Mud Flanagan and his adventures. And if this band were talented enough to open for Queen and King Crimson back in the day, they’re probably worth a listen or two.
  9. TouchTouch: one of those groups that could have been a contender: Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger were fans. Alas, it was not to be. But thanks to YouTube, you can listen for free to some incredible vocals and even more impressive work on the keyboards.
  10. CircusCircus: Mel Collins in the days before he was cool (I joke of course; Mel Collins has always been cool). But it is Mel Collins in the days before King Crimson – and his band, although not entirely original, was really good.

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!