The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Twenty-Two): Island

If the album cover looks familiar to you, that’s because it was designed by the same man responsible for Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery and Ridley Scott’s Alien: H. R. Giger. Island may be the strangest thing to come out of Switzerland since that eccentric creator of biomechanical horrors. That small, idyllic mountain country may not come to mind when one thinks of avant-garde, but, like Giger, Island certainly does not fit the Swiss mold – or any mold, for that matter. Pictures is easily one of the bolder, more original releases that I have ever heard. Like Van der Graaf Generator, Island relied not on bass or guitar (in fact, they feature not a single guitar on the entire album), but rather on percussion, keys, and woodwinds. Like Gentle Giant, Island’s free jazz-style approach offered the band opportunities for some incredibly complex improvisation. And like King Crimson and Peter Gabriel, Island wasn’t afraid to add a dash of black humor to their lyrics, providing the album with a (somewhat) lighter tone than is suggested by that horrifying album cover. Now to the music itself:

The album opens with the appropriately titled “Introduction,” which sounds like Ligeti’s Requiem or something out of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. This brief piece ends with some eerie words whispered over a cacophony of sound before it transitions rapidly to…

The dynamic “Zero,” which opens with a flourish of keyboards. The interplay between keyboardist Peter Scherer, drummer Guge Jurg Meier, and woodwind wunderkind Rene Fisch is impressive and will probably remind most listeners of King Crimson or Gentle Giant. But we do not hear the vocals of Benjamin Jager until…

The title track. Jager, who sounds a bit like Peter Gabriel, has some fun on this song (it takes a quirky fellow to sing about “gastric juices”), but the focus remains on the instruments, and Jager himself is no slouch on percussion. In the middle of this complex piece we are entertained to both a gentle clarinet solo and smooth sax work courtesy of Fisch. These mad scientists of music continue to experiment on…

“Herold and King / Dloreh,” a fitting title for such an odd piece. After some three minutes of beautiful but somewhat dark piano melodies, we get a good half minute of silence before Jager’s vocals fade in…singing the lyrics in reverse, of course (look again at the title of the song). Once again, we are treated to some fascinating interplay between keys, sax, and percussion, and at one point the ominous sound of a drone provides an additional layer of eeriness. To up the weirdness factor, the track includes some whispered vocals (reminiscent of Goblin or VDGG) and scat (or something like it) throughout. The strange brew continues to satisfy on…

“Here and Now,” the closing track. This piece features (briefly, alas) a gorgeous and textured organ sound, and the percussion and sax shine as they have throughout. The drone effect is again put to good use, adding a haunting layer to what is otherwise the most “upbeat” track on the album.

This is a challenging album that may not initially appeal to your tastes. In fact, it may take three or four spins before you can appreciate it, and it is certainly worth more than one listen: this is top-notch musicianship with a healthy dose of dark humor. Anyone who appreciates Gentle Giant, Van der Graaf Generator, or King Crimson will be impressed by this little-known avant-garde masterpiece. Just don’t let Giger’s monster scare you off.

Stay tuned for number twenty-three!

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Twelve): Fruupp

Well, perhaps you actually have heard of these chaps. Although they never made much of a name for themselves, Fruupp opened up for some of the biggest names in progressive rock, including Genesis, Queen, and King Crimson, in the early 1970s.

Founded in 1971 by Irish guitarist Vincent McClusker, Fruupp included classically trained Stephen Houston on keyboards and oboe; Peter Farrelly on lead vocals, bass guitar, and flute; and Martin Foye on drums. They recorded four albums in their five year tenure, but the sudden departure of Houston in 1975 (he became a clergyman) and poor record sales eventually forced the band to call it a day.

Fruupp’s third album, The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes, is considered their masterpiece. A concept album (based on a short story by Paul Charles), it tells the tale of a lad named Mud Flanagan, who, after the death of his parents, traverses the Irish countryside looking for the end of the rainbow. The influence of Genesis, especially in the songwriting, vocals, and keyboards, is evident throughout the album, but Fruupp are not mere copycats.

The album opens with a beautiful symphonic piece titled “It’s All Up Now”: Flanagan has made the decision to leave home and journey out into the wilds of the Emerald Isle. But shortly after his departure, “The Prince of Darkness” – a song that would fit nicely into the sinister world of Nursery Cryme – interrupts young Mud’s pleasant travels. Thankfully, our hero manages to avoid the road to hell and continues on his way, encountering a beautiful woman and experiencing several strange visions before reaching his journey’s end in the lengthy but uplifting “The Perfect Wish.”

Houston’s keyboards steal the show on this album, although McClusker and Foye are able to showcase their talents on guitar and drums, respectively, on the heavier “Annie Austere” and “Crystal Brook” (the latter also features some gorgeous flute courtesy of Farrelly).

It’s a shame Fruupp never enjoyed the success that other symphonic bands did, as this album certainly offers hints of bigger things that might have been. The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes may not reach the heights of Foxtrot or Selling England By the Pound, but it is certainly a worthy addition to the traditional symphonic prog canon.

Stay tuned for obscure prog band number thirteen!

Got Live If you Want It!

As the demigods of the US postal service would have it (and OK, ordering from Amazon, Burning Shed and others had something to do with it), a lot of the CDs that have landed in my mailbox lately are live albums (or have a live element). “So whadid ya get?” Glad you asked . . .

District 97, Screenplay: the first live effort from the grassroots Chicago group intended for mainstream distribution, this double disc set is a comprehensive showcase for their gutsy blend of prog, metal and fusion. Disc 1 is a headlong romp through their fine album Screens, recorded onstage in the Netherlands; along with a new track, disc 2 serves up delectable live takes on their back catalog plus covers ranging from John Lennon (a snippet of “Jealous Guy”) through Bill Bruford (two tracks performed in my vicinity at Progtoberfest 2018) to King Crimson (with the late John Wetton on vocals). A perfect introduction for D97 newcomers, and a delightful celebration for fans already in the know. Available direct from the band.

The Keith Emerson Tribute Concert – Fanfare for the Uncommon Man: Five years in the making, this 2 DVD/2 CD combo pack, recorded at Los Angeles’ El Rey Theater two months after Emerson’s devastating suicide, is the best tribute to him I could imagine. Post-ELP collaborator Marc Bonilla wrangles a impressive rotating cast of star players through a setlist that captures both Emo’s audacious, aggressive swagger and his sophisticated, heart-wrenching lyricism. Toto’s Steve Porcaro (organ on “The Barbarian”), Emerson protege Rachel Flowers (piano on a complete instrumental version of “The Endless Enigma”), CJ Vanston (piano on “Take A Pebble”) and Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess (multi-keys on a complete “Tarkus”) all shine in the keyboard chair; guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter turns Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” into a chicken-pickin’ delight. And when Eddie Jobson takes over Emerson’s iconic modular Moog synthesizer to play that solo on “Lucky Man,” the chills down my spine are unstoppable. Available direct from Cherry Red Records.

Peter Gabriel Plays Live: PG’s initial live album, restored to its original length and running order after far too many years in an edited version. Touring colleges and universities in the American Midwest to support the Security album, Gabriel and his backing players wove together high-contrast monochrome textures, brutally stark rhythms and chantlike volleys of vocals to conjure up an intense, ritualistic experience. Having seen this tour in the flesh, I can attest the album does a great job capturing the tour’s immersive, primitivistic grandeur — as well as including jauntier highlights from earlier albums and the goofy, otherwise unreleased “I Go Swimming.” Available direct from the artist or via Burning Shed.

Liquid Tension Experiment 3: Yeah, this one’s a stretch . . . but hey, the bonus disc of improvisations was recorded live in the studio! Initial opinion among fellow fans seems divided on the uncanny ability of John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, Tony Levin and Mike Portnoy to pick up almost exactly where they left off 22 years ago. Do you prefer your progressive music to explore farther-out frontiers each time, or to dig deeper in a previously fruitful vein? Me, I get into both approaches — and while LTE certainly plows similar instrumental prog-metal furrows as on their first two albums, there’s plenty of jaw-dropping, face-melting, heart-wrenching, smile-inducing gold in them there grooves! Available from Inside Out and Burning Shed. Oh, and I’m confident you’ve never heard a version of “Rhapsody in Blue” quite like this:

— Rick Krueger

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

We Need Contact!

ihavethetouch

I believe I have found the perfect song for these times….

 

Something to consider as we lose contact:

“Earlier generations understood that institutions anchor our lives. That’s why German children went to school throughout World War II, even when their cities were being reduced to rubble. That’s why Boy Scouts conducted activities during the Spanish flu pandemic and churches were open. We’ve lost this wisdom. In this time of crisis, when our need for these anchors is all the greater, our leaders have deliberately atomized millions of people. 

Society is a living organism, not a machine that can be stopped and started at our convenience. A person who is hospitalized and must lie in bed loses function rapidly, which is why nurses push patients to get up and walk as soon as possible after sicknesses and operations. The same holds true for societies. If the shutdown continues for too long, we will lose social function….” – R. R. Reno

Read the full article here.

40th Anniversary of First Peter Gabriel Solo

This today from Peter Gabriel himself:

pg1_c-734x920

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Peter’s first solo album.

“This record was my first step as a solo artist, the first step away from being a part of a band. I was uncertain of what I could or couldn’t do so went with some of Bob Ezrin’s choice of musicians (including Tony Levin) and invited Robert Fripp and Larry Fast to cover my more soundscape orientated / European ambitions. Although it was mainly recorded in a snowy couple of weeks in Toronto I remember the sessions as fast, exciting and hot. Many of the backing tracks were put down live, working to the limitations of the 16-track tape machine.

It was a fun, intense and scary session, with a great band – who later came out to tour with me.” Peter Gabriel, February 2017.

Following his departure from Genesis two years previously and his intervening, self-imposed, exile from the music business the album was the start of a new phase of Peter’s creative life, a chance to be the master of his own destiny and be respected as a songwriter and artist in his own right;

“It took me three albums to get the confidence and to find out what I could do that made me different from other people. And the first record really was a process of trying.“

To read the full release, go here: http://petergabriel.com/news/pg1-40th-anniversary/?utm_source=petergabriel.com&utm_campaign=8ae74ec46d-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_02_22&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_a92d0b9e66-8ae74ec46d-135531113&mc_cid=8ae74ec46d&mc_eid=46fc9f7e93