Monday, January 26, 2015

Prog Rock: Faith Restored

If you're into intelligent but hard-rocking stuff that isn't afraid to get mellow, if you're bored with what you're hearing in bars and on radio, check out this record

Here's a statement to make me sound like an artsy, jaded music snob, but it's true: I'm SO bored with rock and roll. In my opinion, we haven't seen or heard anything legitimately new and exciting since the early 1990s. Ever since then it's either been recycled Green Day or recycled Stone Temple Pilots or recycled Blues Explosion (Jack White, take note) or recycled Strokes which was just recycled something-else. Now that punk and so-called "alternative" bands are the norm, now that the Sound of What Was Once Weird has become Completely Tame and Mainstream, I wonder where the legitimately new, experimental music is.

My ennui led me backward, not forward. I love a lot of progressive rock of the 1970s, especially the so-called "Third Incarnation" of King Crimson (Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, Red), and Jethro Tull. When I look around for modern "progressive" music, it seems the term has shifted a bit on the public consciousness to describe such metal bands as Dragonforce and Dream Theater. I've wondered where the "new" progressive is, in terms of pushing boundaries rather than recycling the same old stuff. I'm looking for "progressive" as in "new," not as in "retro."

I found the best of both worlds, thanks to Mark at Vinyl Renaissance. He guided me to a 2013 record by Steven Wilson, who I'd never heard of. I hesitated, went home and listened to the first track on YouTube. Not even halfway through the first track, I went right back to the store and picked up the record.

The Raven That Refused To Sing is a two-record set that, while steeped in 1970s prog-rock traditions, uses that as a trampoline (or rather, a rocket-launching pad) to fly into new territory. Opening with a 12-minute-long, bombastic, jazz-influenced heavy, mathy rock song, the record descends into more mellow territory, proving they're masters of both light and shade, heavy and mellow. On this record I hear echoes of everything from King Crimson to early-Eighties British new wave to Ornette Coleman to Jethro Tull. There's a bit of a frenetic quality to the record that almost reminds me of deconstructionist punk band Pussy Galore, but filtered through the discipline and musicianship of, say, Rush. Fans of bands like NoMeansNo will appreciate the driving bass, especially on the first band of the record.

Take a listen to the first track, here on YouTube, Luminol. Awesome stuff, truly epic in scale, exciting and bombastic when it needs to be, soft, pretty (almost sininsterly so) and back into music that sounds like a Fokker dive-bombing a village. While the 1970s influence on this track is fairly obvious, it's equally obvious that it departs from that archetype, and if you listen to the rest of the record, it's even more obvious.

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