The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Eleven): Alloy Now

I began this series when I first joined Progarchy back in 2013, and my last post concerning these obscure prog bands dates back to June 8, 2014 – almost seven years ago exactly! At the time I told myself I was going to cover only ten of these bands – it’s a tidy number, and, considering how many obscure prog bands were and are currently out there, I wanted to keep the list manageable. Furthermore, after graduating from college in 2016, my taste in prog remained almost exclusively centered on the heavy hitters of the “classic” era: Yes, Genesis, ELP, Pink Floyd, and King Crimson.

But then yesterday I changed my mind. My interest in these unheralded bands was rekindled only very recently, thanks to fellow Progarchist Reyna McCain. There are far too many under-appreciated progressive rock musicians out there – so why stop at ten? I compiled a list of some thirty bands (yes, I know that is not an exhaustive number; I will probably add more), and my goal is to cover all of them. My other goal is to keep these reviews fairly brief – after all, it’s the listening that matters most. So, without further ado, let’s begin at eleven:

Alloy Now is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist David Noel, who began his prog career with the Plastic Overlords, a Georgia-based psychedelic trio. Shortly after Plastic Overlords released their eponymous album, Noel started Alloy Now, a solo project (although he does feature some guest musicians on bass guitar and drums). Despite his Southern roots, Noel sounds like a mix of David Gilmour, Dave Brock, and Peter Hamill (at his more restrained): the acid-space-psychedelic influences are clear throughout this album.

Twin Sister of the Milky Way was released in the year 2000, but sounds like it could have been made in the early 1970s. That being said, it is not a simple homage to its influences, which range from Pink Floyd to Van der Graaf Generator to Hawkwind. Particular highlights include the opening number, “The Butterscotch Star,” which features a rich bass guitar (think Chris Squire), trippy vocals, and gorgeous keyboard-driven melodies. The instrumental “Shoulder of Orion” opens with ominous keyboards and percussion, but gradually transforms into something like a cosmic march through the stars. “Ghostly Superhero” could have been written by a Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie – think “Starman” or “Moonage Daydream.” Finally, the title track may be the strongest on the album: Noel’s spaced-out, symphonic guitar and keys play over wordless vocals, taking you on a trip through the Milky Way galaxy.

In my humble opinion, there is not a weak song on this album. If you are inclined towards symphonic prog or the acid and space rock sound of Hawkwind and Pink Floyd, then Twin Sister of the Milky Way belongs in your galaxy.

Stay tuned for obscure prog band number twelve!

Bandcamp Does It Again!

Back on March 20, Bandcamp waived its share of all sales, in order to support artists whose livelihoods were effected by the COVID-19 pandemic (especially because of cancelled live shows and tours).  The results were astonishing: $4,300,000 in sales of downloads, CDs, LPs and merch, 15 times a normal Friday’s take.

So, to their credit, Bandcamp is doing it again.  And again.  And again.

On May 1, June 5, and July 3 (the first Friday of each month), we’re waiving our revenue share for all sales on Bandcamp, from midnight to midnight PDT on each day.

(Over 150 artists and labels are offering discounts, exclusive items, merch bundles, and more this Friday.)

It may sound simple, but the best way to help artists is with your direct financial support, and we hope you’ll join us through the coming months as we work to support artists in this challenging time.

And, in case you’re wondering, there’s tons of recorded goodness available at Bandcamp from these Progarchy-favored artists:

If your budget allows it, and you need a prog fix, why not do your shopping at Bandcamp this Friday?

 

— Rick Krueger

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Seven): Universe

Universe

The world of prog is full of surprises. In my search for obscure prog bands I stumbled across Universe. Although not quite as profound or mysterious as the universe we inhabit, the band is by far one of the best in American prog. Mixing the sounds of Hawkwind and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, Universe successfully created their own acid rock sound.  Formed in the mid 1970s in California by Gary Paul Van and Dennis Lee Askew, Universe released one eponymous album in 1977, and what an album it was.  Before you listen to the music, you should dedicate some time to appreciate the album cover in all of its psychedelic beauty.

Notice the dove and the crosses on the cover.  There are religious overtones on this album: “Rock in the Sky” and “Light from Above”, for example, refer to God. But they lyrics are far from preachy, and Van’s ethereal vocals only emphasize the brilliant cosmic vibe. Keys, synthesizer, and guitar dominate, and all are performed with equal dexterity.  Some highlights:

Touchdown features fine acoustic and electric guitar work.  It is the longest song on the album (about 10 minutes) and reminds me of the Yes masterpiece Awaken.

Dream is the “spaciest” song on the album and may remind some listeners of The Beatles’ psychedelic classic Tomorrow Never Knows.

Remember the Stars opens with a bang and transitions with cosmic delight to Light From Above; it is one of the best American acid rock songs I’ve ever heard and my favorite piece on the album.

This is another one of those albums that does not receive the attention it deserves.  Although Universe will appeal mostly to fans of acid and space rock, anyone who enjoys prog will appreciate at least some of the songs here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VtxzyHTZYM

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Six): Lift

lift

I bring to you yet another fine American band that  would have been sadly forgotten if not for the saving graces of the Internet.  Hailing from New Orleans, Lift released one album in 1974, the curiously titled Caverns of Your Brain.  It is probably the best obscure prog album I’ve ever listened to.  All five band members are more than capable when it comes to handling the complex rhythms and lengthy compositions that distinguishes progressive rock from other musical genres.  Fans of Yes, ELP, Hawkwind, and even Premiata Forneria Marconi will enjoy this album.  Lead singer and flautist Courtenay Hilton-Green sounds similar to Jon Anderson (sans Lancashire accent) and Franz di Cioccio (of PFM fame).  Cody Kelleher’s bass guitar sounds similar to Greg Lake and, at times, Chris Squire (from his pre-Fragile days).  The standout on the album, however, is keyboardist Chip Gremillion.  His work on all four songs is comparable to that of Tony Kaye, and he does a superb job on each piece.  Guitarist J. Richard Huxen and drummer Chip Grevemberg are excellent on their respective instruments as well.  Now to the songs:

Simplicity – excellent opening song; similar in sound to Yes’s debut album; catchy bass and keyboard intro

Caverns – more tranquil and “spacy” song, similar in vein to Hawkwind and Gabriel-era Genesis; piano solo reminiscent of Tony Banks’s finest work; and a superb acid guitar solo (reminds me of Gilmour)

Buttercup Boogie – more frenetic than the others; exceptional keyboard work yet again; fine drum and bass anchor the piece

Trippin’ Over the Rainbow – another great keyboard and bass intro (bass sounds similar to Greg Lake’s best work); excellent synthesizer work gives song a space/acid rock feel; part of the bass line includes the Peter Gunn theme (famously played by ELP in concert)

These are four well executed songs.  For those of you who enjoy the symphonic side of prog, this is an album for you.

Hope everyone had an enjoyable beginning to the New Year.  Let’s hope it’s a good year for freedom!

Here is the full album: 

HRHProg In Pictures

So much to do, so little time…

With half-finished reviews of recent releases from Amplifier and Cosmograf still vying for my attention, I’ve not been feeling much enthusiasm for the idea of writing about my experiences at the recent HRHProg festival at Magna in Rotherham. Thankfully, Alison has spared me the trouble with her excellent account, leaving me free to try something different.

So here it is, in the form of Images Not Words (to misquote Dream Theater). Clicking on any of these photographs takes you to the Carousel, where you can view it at higher resolution and move between photos using the left and right arrow keys. Just a few of my photographs are included here; the full set can be viewed on Flickr.