Saturday, March 13, 2010


Prog Music for March 2010

Sometimes it is good getting to the party late. When the folks who represent Syzygy offered to send me their latest CD, I had already heard good things about them, but had never actually heard them. I opened the mail the other day and to my surprise I found the entire 3 CD collection by the band, including their first work "Cosmos and Chaos" which was recorded under the band name, Witsend. In a short period of time, I was able to hear the growth of a group of musicians over their 16 years together.

Witsend (Cosmos and Chaos - 1993)/Syzygy (The Allegory of Light - 2003)/Syzygy (Realms of Eternity - 2009)
Although you can hear lots of bits and pieces of other prog bands in the their music, it is in no way derivative. What is most distinctive about their sound then as it is now, is the even balance of electric guitar, acoustic guitar and keyboards. Somehow prog rock turned into prog metal and the softer acoustic instruments disappeared. With it went much of the dynamics that made prog rock so interesting. Syzygy must understand that because the acoustic guitar finds its way into nearly half of their songs throughout their 3 CD career. The biggest change between Witsend and Realms of Eternity are the addition of vocals. I believe there is only one song that really has vocals on the Cosmos and Chaos CD, whereas most of the songs on Realms have vocals. This is classic prog rock with blazing guitar and keyboard solos along with interesting and complex melodies and musical themes. The second half of Realms of Eternity is a prog rock opus featuring 7 or 8 separate but beautifully linked pieces. Syzygy has quickly become one of my favorite active prog bands. I'm so glad they found me.

Egg (Egg - 1970)/(The Polite Force - 1971)
The key to understanding what Egg sounded like was seeing in the credits of Egg "Tone generator" as one of the instruments that Dave Stewart, keyboardist for National Health among many other great prog bands, played. This is early progressive, with a jazz/fusion sound to it and plenty of noddling around on a tone generator. The CDs now available have bonus cuts that include single versions and B-sides to singles. They made singles out of this stuff? Really? All kidding aside, for those who want to explore the earlier days of progressive rock, heavy on the psychedelic, do check them out.

King Crimson - In The Court of the Crimson King 40th Anniversary Series (2009)
There is one reason to buy this CD: The 5.1 mix that was created by Steven Wilson from Porcupine Tree. It is a fine way to enjoy one of the more important records to come out of the 70's progressive scene. Still, the quality of the actually recording, especially the drums, leave a lot to be desired compared to what can be done today. But, if you love this CD, and you are a traditionalist who believes that the original sound the band heard is all I want to hear, AND you have a stereo capable of playing a 5.1 audio DVD, then you should seriously consider adding this to your collection.

The Electric Light Orchestra (No Answer - 1972)/(II - 1973)/(On the Third Day - 1973)/(The Night the Lights Went Out in Long Beach - 1998)
Somehow I've pretty much left ELO out of the stream (there are a couple of ELO songs running I believe). They really go pretty pop in the later days, and truthfully, looking back, they were pretty pretentious with their mixing of pop and classical. But then, wasn't that really what prog music was all about; pretension? Okay, that was a bit tongue in cheek, but as I went back and listened to these first CDs and a live album from that era, I couldn't help but remember back to those days when this seemed to be the future of music. So, I'm throwing this poppy, pretentious stuff into the stream, with no embarrassment and only tune on my lips.

Cirque Du Soleil - Kooza (2008)
The current version of Cirque just blew through town and was, as always, an amazing show. Over the years I've always thought their music was the closest many people would ever get to experiencing progressive rock. With their fake language songs and very movie soundtrack style, Cirque's music has always been able to hold its own next to the prog world. The CD is much more assessable than anything I've ever heard from Cirque, but there were several songs that fit the prog format.

Kraftwerk - Autobahn (1974)
It was the turning point for the band as they started to bring in real melodies and vocals into their sound.

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