Relayer: A Brief Retrospective

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A visually stunning album cover. Profound and thought-provoking lyrics. Epic instrumentation and vocals. I could be describing almost any progressive rock album of note, but I am specifically referring to the underrated Yes album Relayer in this case. I say underrated because this album, featuring only three songs, all of which are worthy of the designation “progressive,” ended up wedged in between the controversial Tales from Topographic Oceans and the (relatively) lackluster Yes albums of the late 1970s/early 1980s.

First a brief comment on the sleeve design. Roger Dean is an integral part of Yes’ image, and his design for Relayer only bolsters the importance of his role. Inspired by images of war and the Knights Templar, Dean draws the viewer in to a world of fantastical images and drama, as the knights on horseback arrive to do battle with the twin snakes. Before one even listens to the album, he can already grasp its focus and themes: war and peace, victory and hope. Dean can capture in an image what Anderson, Squire, and Howe can capture in music.templar

The three songs are not only well-written, but they are also well-performed. This may seem like an understatement in regards to Yes, but this cannot be said about every song they released. The epic opener Gates of Delirium, inspired by Tolstoy’s even longer epic War and Peace, and featuring superb work on keys and synths from Patrick Moraz on his only Yes album, was best described by Jon Anderson: it is a “war song,” but not one that seeks to explain or denounce war, but rather a song that explores war’s aspects: there is a “prelude, a charge, a victory tune, and peace at the end, with hope for the future.” Sound Chaser, a frenetically paced tune featuring a true guitar solo from Steve Howe, solid drumming courtesy of Alan White, and a sizzling performance on bass guitar from the late, great Chris Squire, allows Yes to explore their jazzier side. The final tune, To Be Over, moves at a more relaxed pace, anchored by Howe’s electric sitar. It is a beautifully straightforward song, and it provides the perfect final touch on a visually and acoustically stunning album.

In sum, Relayer may not be the most renowned album in Yes’ extensive catalogue, but in this reviewer’s humble opinion, it is one of their finest works overall, and one that deserves more attention and respect.

YesYears: Twenty-Five Years Later

Remember YesYears?  It was one of the first really nice box sets to come out, back in the day when the only nice box set was that Bruce Springsteen one that had come out in the late 1980s?

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YesYears–a Nice Fiction that Every Member of Yes Loved One Another, Beginning to Present

YesYears came out on August 6, 1991.  Union had come out at the very end of April that same year.  Unless you were really connected to the internet (not that easy in 1991), Yes fans just had to guess as to what was going on that summer with the band.  Was Yes really an eight-person band?  And, how long would that last?  YesYears seemed to present the eight as living in harmony with one another.  After all, while the four discs did not include anything from Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe, it did list them as a part of the really nice fold-out sleeve, tracing every aspect of Yes history from “The Warriors” to Yes incarnation #9.

Whether real or not, the packaging of YesYears certainly makes a coherent narrative of the band and everyone of its members from Alpha to. . . well, certainly not Omega!  Yes was alive!  Or, so it seemed.

At the time that YesYears came out, I was very poor (a second-year graduate student) and still listening to cassette tapes.  Despite the expense of the YesYears box set, I purchased the four-cassette package.  And, yes, it made a deep cut in my savings account.  Those were years when I would skimp on lunch (usually not even eating one) to spend the money on music or books.

Yes+Yes+Years+350639bAnd as far as I remember, I never regretted having bought that box set.  Sadly, though, the cassettes that came with it were not of the best quality, and I wore my copies out rather quickly.

Jump forward two decades.  Today, in the mail, all the way from an Ebay seller in New Jersey, arrived a mint condition 4-cd box set of YesYears.

Wow, it is a thing of beauty.

I know that many of the songs that had not been readily available in 1991–such as Abilene, Vevey, Run with the Fox–are now very easily available.  Still, the 1991 box set is really, really gorgeous.  I actually paid less for this mint condition version (including postage) than I did for the cassette version 25 years ago.

Just as in 1991, I have no regrets.  The sun is out, my kids are laughing somewhere in the house, and I’m listening to disk three of YesYears.

Still amazingly beautiful. . . even a full quarter century later.

A Brief Remembrance of 90125

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One of the most important reboots ever.  November 7, 1983.

Funny how certain moments leave profound impressions.  The winter months always make me think of Yes’s 90125.  I very well remember purchasing the album on its release, November 7, 1983.  For months, every night, I listened to it on my headphones, after dinner and in the dark, sometimes two or three times.

I’d been a good Yes fan since first hearing Yessongs in 1973.  As I’ve mentioned before on progarchy, I fell in love with every aspect of Yessongs–the art and music.

Of course, I knew 90125 represented a huge break with the past, but it seemed like a rather brilliant break.

I’ve never stopped loving 90125.  It’s pretty much been in constant rotation since I first heard it at the age of 16.

I wish I had something profound to write about it at the moment.  I don’t.  Except, thank you Trevor, Chris, Trevor, Alan, Tony, Eddie, and Jon.

Chasing Light by Built for the Future

Built for the Future

A few weeks ago Facebook friend and prog-rocker jHimm (you can read my review of his debut album here) called my attention to a new band named Built for the Future. B4TF hails from San Antonio, Texas, and consists of only two members: Patric Farrell (all instruments, backing vocals), and Kenny Bissett (lead vocals). This dynamic duo released their debut album Chasing Light on July 28. They are supported by Dave Pena and Chris Benjamin on guitars and Imaya Farrell on cello/violin/viola. The album is dedicated to the late, great Chris Squire.

B4TF sound like a fusion of Yes, Porcupine Tree, and Spock’s Beard. Throw in some Tears for Fears, and I believe that impressive concoction comes closest to describing these alternative prog-rockers. At the end of the day, however, B4TF definitely maintain their own unique sound.

A concept album, Chasing Light is an exciting debut. These songs in particular stand out:

“Arrive” – the opening song bursts forth with energy, setting the tone for the rest of the album.

“Speed of the Climb” – as the title suggests, this piece is a thrilling, fast paced rocker that may remind one of Spock’s Beard.

“Build for the Future” – has a more somber feel to it; similar in sound to Porcupine Tree, but not quite as dark. The title alone suggests hope, and the possibility of a better tomorrow.

“Running Man” – features sensational distorted guitar work. My favorite song on the album.

“Samsara” – echoes of Yes with multilayered synths and acoustic guitars.

“The Great Escape” – the closer; stunning epic on an excellent album.

I am always pleased to find a new album to review, and I highly recommend this one. The influence of some of the best symphonic prog bands is evident, but Farrell and Bissett add their own touch to the album, and what emerges is a distinct style worthy of praise. For the best (and most succinct) description of the album, however, here is Patric Farrell himself:

 “This theme was inspired by true events in my life, and each song actually represents real feeling and escapism from that experience. Change in life is a big ordeal, looking for truths, looking for a better place, looking for light is all we can do when we are faced with such a turn.”

You can purchase the album here: https://builtforthefuture1.bandcamp.com/releases

Progarchy’s Exclusive interview with Alan White of Yes

PROGARCHY EXCLUSIVE

An Interview with Yes’ Alan White (August 3, 2015)

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Prog Rock’s quintessential super group, Yes, will be heading out on an American tour again this summer/fall, including the third annual Cruise to the Edge in mid-November.  The most notable change in the line-up, of course, will be the absence of Chris Squire on bass—the first time ever for a Yes tour.

PROGARCHY’s Kevin McCormick recently spoke for with Yes drummer extraordinaire, Alan White, as he prepared for rehearsals for the upcoming tour.

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PROGARCHY Thank you so much for taking time to talk with us.  I think I speak for all of the members of Progarchy.com in offering our condolences after the recent and sudden death of your colleague and friend, Chris Squire.  Obviously he was such an essential part of Yes, founding member and the only person to appear on every Yes album.  Are there plans to honor his memory in some way on the upcoming tour?

Alan White  Well, we’re going to start rehearsals on Monday and we’re going to put our heads together.  We’ve got numerous ideas and we’ve got to work out something to honor Chris.  Just how we’re going to do it, we haven’t really decided.

Chris Squire

PROGARCHY On your website, you wrote a touching note in his memory.  As a musician, I know how unique the musical relationship between the drummer and bassist is and how crucial it is to forming a solid foundation for the band’s sound.  Can you put your finger on what made your collaboration with Chris work so beautifully seamlessly?

AW Well yeah, it’s a question of similarity with each other.  And over the years it became a more brotherly kind of relationship.  Chris was almost part of my family.    We shared a lot of experiences together and we played together for 43 years.  So when you play together with someone for that long you get to know all of the facets of their playing and visa versa, him with myself.  So it made it easy for us to work out some kind of flow in the rhythm section in what Yes was creating.  And it was a special relationship.  It probably never will be the same.  All the same, he did ask that we keep this going, and that I keep it going.  He said just do whatever you can do.  And that’s a good insight, to just keep things very much forward.

PROGARCHY I imagine it must have been difficult to choose to continue with the planned tour.  Was there a deciding factor for you?  

AW That was what Chris wanted. He didn’t want everything to come to a halt just because he was ill.  And while he was ill he had a very positive outlook to the future.  He said, “Well, I’ll go into hospital for four to six weeks, I’ll get rid of this and I’ll be back on tour next spring.”

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PROGARCHY Well, the fans will certainly miss him and I know the band will too.  Any hints on the set list for the upcoming shows or will that be decided at the rehearsals?

AW Well we’ve put a set list together, but we’ve not rehearsed. We’ve got a few things to try out and see if they’ll work out or not.  That will determine how we approach the set list.  It’s not confirmed yet, but we have a good idea the type of set we want to do, because we’re touring with Toto who are probably going to do a lot of their [popular tracks].  We’re not going to play whole albums like we’ve done in the past few years.  We’re just going to do a great selection of Yes music that people love to hear in concert.

PROGARCHY At first glance, Yes and Toto doesn’t seem like the most obvious double-bill.  How did it come about?

AW Well it sounded pretty good to me.  Maybe … because we know the guys in the band so well.  Steve Porcaro and all the them, I’ve known those guys for years.  They’re all super-nice guys and we get along really well.

PROGARCHY Any chances that you might join forces?  

AW I doubt it.  You know, once you get on the road you have a set list to get into and a time line you keep to.  There’s not really time to work that kind of thing out.  But I’ve played with Steve Porcaro and Billy Sherwood [on the Pink Floyd tribute album, Back Against the Wall].

Yes Tour

PROGARCHY So is it Yes with Toto or…?

AW It’s going to be Yes and Toto.  They’ll be opening for us every night, but it’s really more of a kind of double-billing.

PROGARCHY It’s amazing to me how much energy you bring to your live performances.  When I saw Yes perform in Austin in 2013, I was impressed with the power in your playing.  For you in particular, it must be extremely physically demanding.  

AW [laughing] Well it all depends on what part of the tour you go to when we’re on the road!  You know, none of us are spring chickens anymore, obviously.  And traveling is really what gets you.  If we didn’t have to travel on a daily basis we’d be in relatively good shape every evening.  But sometimes you’re just really tired when you get to the evening and the last thing you want to do is share music.  But it’s really funny how the body turns around and rises to the occasion.  I guess when you walk out on stage and see all of the people out there, the body just shrugs all that off and gets to it.

PROGARCHY Has your relationship with Yes’ music changed over time?  Are there any songs that you enjoy more now than when they were recorded?

AW Not really.  All of Yes’ music is pretty challenging to play.  Each song has got its own demands on what to play, and how to play, and the way to play it.  So you have to readjust yourself to all of that framework….I have played some of them quite a few thousand times.  So it’s about getting back into the mold and making it work.

PROGARCHY Are you surprised at all to still be playing with Yes after so many years?

AW [laughs] Well, I mean, yeah.  Eventually, when I joined the band I said, “I’ll give you guys three months and see if I enjoy it and you give me three months and see if you enjoy it as a band.”  And I’m still here forty-tree years later, so there must be something working.

PROGARCHY You had commented a while back about the current line-up of Yes is one of the best there’s been and Jon Davison’s working out well.  Are you still feeling that?

AW Jon Davison is an excellent vocalist and all-around musician.  He’s a super nice guy and very easy work to with.

PROGARCHY It’s amazing to me that Yes is still touring after 40 years.  Is there an element to progressive rock that allows it to reach across decades and generations?

AW I guess the main thing is that everybody strives to make Yes a well-respected, high-standard-of-musicianship kind of band.  When we perform, everybody gives 110 percent. If one part of the band isn’t clicking on all eight cylinders or whatever, you can tell, because it affects everybody else and their whole performance.

When we’re all firing on all cylinders, there’s no other band like it.

PROGARCHY Indeed!  Thank you so much for all of the great music over the years and good luck on the upcoming tour.

AW Alright, man.

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A Farewell To The Fish

And so another giant of the genre passes.

I’ve found it difficult to put into words how I truly feel about this. When someone you’ve regarded as a musical hero for 35 years of your life is suddenly gone, there is bound to be shock and numbness, but I’ve been trying to reach beyond that and think about what Chris meant to me and how he fits into the pantheon of rock’s greatest musicians.

The thing that always struck me on the sadly relatively few occasions that I saw Yes live was just how imposing a presence Chris Squire was. Partly, this was physical; he was a big guy, after all, and he prowled the stage like he owned it, in a manner befitting his stature. Of course, the other part of it was entirely down to how he handled a bass guitar.

Playing Fragile’s The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus) for the very first time was, for me, an ear-opening, revelatory experience, as I’m sure it was for many other fans of the band. That multi-layered sound was simply astonishing. And he made that Rickenbacker growl and scream, made it do things that few other rock bassists had dared to try. Back then, when I began my exploration of progressive music as a wide-eyed lad of thirteen, I had a complacent attitude to the instrument, content to think of it as something in the background, lending structure and texture to the overall sound but not being of particular importance melodically. Chris Squire was one of two people who changed that view irrevocably. The other, you’ll be unsurprised to learn, was Geddy Lee. But of the two, I think it was Chris who affected my view the most profoundly.

In a band with a complex and convoluted history of line-up changes, Chris was the singular fixed point: the axis about which The Roundabout turned. The Yes family will miss him sorely, and Yes, whatever form it might take in future, will be a very different beast without him.

Amazing Bass – Chris Squire, 1948-2015

Shortly after getting up this Sunday June 28, I received some bad news. You see, the most recent launch of the Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 was a failure, with the rocket exploding about two minutes into its flight. Being a space geek and an unabashed fan of Musk’s vision to create a spacefaring civilization (not to mention, his putting his money where his mouth is to make it happen), this was definitely a disappointment for me. If only that could have been the worst news of the day.Chris+Squire+YesChrisSquire

Not long after that, I heard about the passing of Chris Squire. Now that was a real punch to the gut. Rockets are replaceable. Chris Squire is not. It seems like it has only been a few months since we were informed that he was undergoing cancer treatments (leukemia, specifically). You would have thought he would have had longer, and maybe even had a chance for full recovery. And while age 67 is not usually associated with the term “spring chicken”, it seems way too young for someone to be dying.

While Squire has influenced countless other musicians, one did not need to have any musical skill whatsoever to realize how incredibly talented he was. It was blatantly obvious to anyone who even remotely paid attention. It certainly wasn’t lost on me on that fateful night in 1979 when Squire and his band mates converted me into a lifetime prog fan and Yes fan. Before that, I had always thought of a bass player as just somebody sort of in the background, there to “thicken up” the music a little bit. On that night, Squire taught me that the bass could be so much more, a melodic instrument, a lead instrument, a driver of musical innovation.

And good God, what a body of work. Go listen to The Yes Album … phenomenal bass work, from the subterranean driving bass on Yours Is No Disgrace to the counterpoint on Perpetual Change. Then there is, on Fragile, the “snake eating itself” bass line of Roundabout. There is also The Fish, built on multiple bass parts of which each, by themselves, are a testament to his skill. Together, they make up a singularly unique piece of music (it’s also the first song my son could identify by name, although he at two years old referred to it just as “Fish Song”). And who, pray tell, ever played bass the way Squire did on The Gates of Delirium, especially in the “battle” section? Nobody, that’s who. There are so many other wonderful pieces of Yes music that feature Squire at his best that I could go on for much longer than you could continue reading.

To be sure, Squire wasn’t the first virtuoso bassist in rock. I’m thinking of guys like Paul McCartney and John Entwistle. But Squire took bass virtuosity to a whole new level. He turned it up to 11. And for the decade of the 1970’s, I have no problem calling him the best bassist of that era. While others, such as Geddy Lee, may have passed him up in the 1980’s, in the 70’s, Squire was the king of the bassists. I can think of many other good ones of that era, but I can think of few that I would even put in the same league as him, and none that I would put even, much less above him. That’s not a slight on the others. That’s just a testament to a monumental talent. In the 1970’s, Chris Squire was to the bass guitar what Steve Jobs was to the personal computer, and later to the smart phone.

In our current era, we have a number of supremely talented bassists, such as Steve Babb of Glass Hammer and Mariusz Duda of Riverside, among others. I’m sure if you ask any of them, they will all say that Squire was a huge influence. While Squire may have been taken from us way too soon, his influence will be felt for generations – not only in the way he played bass, but in the example he set for other bass players in expanding its possibilities. In fact, the latter part may be where the most lasting impact resides.

As I sign off from this post, I’m going to leave as one last tribute to this most amazing musician, Squire’s own rendition of Amazing Grace. I assume it was performed on his trademark Rickenbacker. Listen to the whole thing and see if you can keep your eyes dry throughout. I, for one, failed.

Rest in Peace, Chris.