Listen to this track by post-rock influencers and musical landscape artists from Chicago, Tortoise. It’s “Djed”, the epic opening track to their landmark 1996 record Millons Now Living Will Never Die. When I say epic, I really mean it; this piece is over 21 minutes long, friends. But, it’s not like it has that many verses, as if we were talking about a pop song. It moves, and changes in a way that pop music can do on a smaller scale. But, it doesn’t play by pop music’s rules.
This is perhaps why this music was called post-rock; that it goes past the rules set in place by traditional rock music, and exists as the result of ignoring the barriers, and simply having differing goals while using the same tools.
So, where did an approach like this come from? Was it simply inspired by what technology could accomplish by the 1990s? Or is this less about technology, and more about something that has always been a companion to innovative musical movements; the unexpected.
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Listen to this track by art rock doyen and former Genesis frontman turned re-invented solo artist Peter Gabriel. It’s “Humdrum”, a track as taken from his 1977 solo record, and the first to bear the title Peter Gabriel. In addition to appearing on that record, it would soon be a popular live track as well.
And on this first statement as a solo artist, he had the help of some pros. The record was produced by Bob Ezrin in Toronto, and with sessions at Olympic Studios in Barnes that included a number of musicians you’ve heard of, including Robert Fripp on guitar, and bassist/Chapman stick player Tony Levin.
It’s important to note that this record was fairly long-awaited. Gabriel left Genesis in 1975, and it was a highly publicized departure considering that Gabriel had defined the band’s tone, and presentation. So, how does this song reflect both his role in Genesis and as a singular solo artist, too? Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by neo-psychedelic janglers and left-of-center pop song crafters The Soft Boys. It’s “I Wanna Destroy You” as taken from their 1980 album Underwater Moonlight, their second.
The record would prove to be a slow burn when it came to success in the mainstream. But, in the meantime this song and the rest of the album would be a touchstone to inspire a number of bands coming up behind them in the new decade, including REM, Yo La Tengo, the Replacements, and the Pixies.
The Soft Boys was creatively driven by songwriter, singer and guitarist Robyn Hitchcock, a musician who would distinguish himself as a songwriter of unique lyrical perspectives and in no half-measures during the rest of the 1980s and up until the present as a solo artist.
And like Hitchcock would demonstrate in his solo career, the Soft Boys would pull from some of those same influences that must have seemed out of date at the time this song came out; The Byrds, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, Revolver-era Beatles, and vintage Bob Dylan. By the end of the 1970s, new wave was the thing, and old wave was out.
But, the retro sound of the record was matched with the hostile sentiments laid down by punk rock, aligning the Soft Boys in both camps, yet in neither, too. Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by cinematically-inclined electronic duo and shapeshifting musical stylists Goldfrapp. It’s “Human”, the third single from their debut record Felt Mountain.
The band take their name from Alison Goldfrapp; singer, keyboardist, and lyricist. This debut won them a shortlisting for the Mercury Prize in 2000, although they were outshined by Badly Drawn Boy’s The Hour of Bewilderbeast, as many other records were that year.
Together with keyboardist, programmer and arranger Will Gregory, the duo would evoke the sonic effects of the spacious grandeur of John Barry soundtracks of the 1960s, although with icily beautiful electronic textures to put the music squarely in the 21st century.
But, what of this song? What other elements besides those elements can be found here?
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Listen to this track by million-selling piano man and singular ’70s rock clothes horse Elton John. It’s “Rocket Man (I think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time)”, a hit single in the spring of 1972, and a key track as taken from his Honky Chateau album that year.
In line with the times when space missions were more common perhaps than they are today, or simply more celebrated, this song stormed the charts with top ten showings all over the world. It also marked a change in approach for Elton John who used his road band on the entirety of the recording instead of sessioners; Dee Murray on bass, Davey Johnstone on guitars and other assorted stringed instruments, and Nigel Olssen behind the kit.
Addtionally on this track, he worked with studio whiz, composer, and keyboardist David Hentschel who added the distinctive ARP synthesizer lines to this track, which gave it an appropriately futurist feel. This is not to minimize John’s own contribution, in particular his singing which is some of the finest of his career, completely selling this tale of space travel and emotional disconnectedness.
The result of all these elements would be one of Elton John’s best known and best loved songs. But, how does it perhaps apply to the touring rock star as much as it does to the story of the Rocket Man? Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by Scottish pop sophisticate musical outfit Aztec Camera. It’s “Walk Out To Winter” as taken from the landmark 1983 debut record High Land Hard Rain. The song was a single, scoring a top ten showing on the UK indie chart, with the album scoring top thirty on the UK album chart.
In the 1980s, this act would become grouped in with several musical outfits that would take the template of new wave and post punk, and mix it with more traditional pop threads; soft rock, latin music, light jazz, and R&B. But, that’s not to say that Aztec Camera was just another act in this vein.
Under principle songwriter and sole constant member Roddy Frame’s creative guidance, the results would be something that not many were able to achieve; a classic record, and with a single (this one) and other singles that would make for both an album band, and a singles band, too.
And what of this song? What does it mean to “walk out to winter” anyway? Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by primo-prog pioneers and art rock template setters King Crimson. It’s “In The Court Of The Crimson King”, the title track from their 1969 debut record In The Court of the Crimson King. That record set the standard of approach to expansive musical ambition when it came to making rock records, later to be recognized as one of the primary albums that “built prog rock”.
Indeed, this band established the idea of creating artistic statements in the rock vein while avoiding established American R&B influences, and turning to classical and other European ingredients instead. Rather than coming from the gospel churches of the American south, this music is more aligned with the liturgical grandness of the Church of England. This record is where it all began where prog rock is concerned.
This was the first incarnation of the band; Robert Fripp on guitar, Greg Lake singing and playing bass, Michael Giles on drums and percussion, and Ian McDonald on multiple instruments, including the mellotron. It’s this last texture which is so important on this song, giving it an eerily orchestral, and portentous atmosphere.
I think it serves not only as an aural element that would go on to define a genre. But, it also serves the narrative as written by lyricist Pete Sinfield, which is one that matches the mythical with the political.
In the light of that, who is the Crimson King anyway?
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